Our research at the IGFs and Metabolic Endocrinology Group (IMEG) is focused on how nutrition and metabolism contribute to the development of major chronic disorders, with a specific interest in the role of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs).
Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), together with insulin, are fundamental, nutritionally-dependent regulators of growth and metabolism. Many of the major chronic illnesses that increasingly burden our health services have been linked to a Western diet and lifestyle and are far less prevalent in large regions of the world .
We have been investigating the biology of IGFs and related factors and how they may mediate the effects of nutrition on chronic illness. Our research includes cell biology studies, translational clinical investigations and population epidemiology. We have focused on the major epithelial cancers and on obesity and more recently on interactions between these two conditions.
IGFs are potent regulators of cell proliferation, survival, differentiation and migration and may be important determinants of these processes in many cancers. IGFs evolved to regulate cell functions according to nutrition and have been strongly implicated in the epithelial cancers that are associated with a Western diet. We are studying interactions between key nutrients and the IGF-system and how this may affect cancer progression. IGFs are present in the body almost entirely in association with specific high-affinity binding proteins. There are six distinct, but closely related, binding proteins known as IGFBP-1 to 6, that are critical regulators of IGF availability and actions. We are investigating the role of these IGFBPs in cancers.
Our research interests range from randomised, clinical intervention trials in an award winning paediatric obesity clinic, through to the epidemiology and characterisation of obesity and insulin resistance in children, to laboratory-based studies on primary cell culture, adipocyte and myocyte function. Our primary cell culture work on samples taken from children, is unique in allowing us to study the impact of obesity and its metabolic consequences on the growing child. The interface between the clinic and laboratory is of paramount importance in designing and planning new studies in all aspects of our work offering research opportunities for clinicians, allied healthcare professionals and scientists alike.
Lifecourse epidemiology is the study of how exposures throughout life impact upon the development of major chronic health disorders.
Nutrition is one of the most important exposures throughout life and the IGF-insulin system mediates many of its consequences on tissue functions. Using the rich resource of contemporary and historical cohorts investigated by Richard Martin, David Gunnell, Yoav Ben-Shlomo, George Davey Smith and Jenny Donovan, we have investigated the nutritional determinants of the IGF system, its consequences on childhood development and on the subsequent development of cancers, cardiovascular disease and obesity in later life.
We collaborate closely with Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine where this is a major research theme.