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Dr Gemma Sharp

Molecular epidemiology relating to reproduction and early-life development


I'm a senior lecturer at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in the Population Health Sciences division of the Bristol Medical School. I started at this department as a postdoc in 2013, at the end of my PhD at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh (2010-2013). Prior to that, I completed an MSc in Reproduction and Development at the University of Bristol (2008-2010) and a BSc (hons) in Biology at Cardiff University (2003-2007).

I was born in Bristol and grew up a few miles south in Nailsea. I'm on Twitter: @ammegandchips

Research Interests

I'm interested in reproductive and developmental molecular epidemiology and my research spans five main areas:

  1. Prenatal influences on childhood health: through my Exploring Prenatal influences On Childhood Health (EPoCH) study, I am studying the extent to which maternal and paternal lifestyles might affect the health of their children. EPoCH is funded by an MRC New Investigator Research Grant (NIRG) and you can find out more about the study here.
  2. Pregnancy and early childhood epigenetics: I co-ordinate the University of Bristol's involvement in the NutriPROGRAM project, which is an ERA-HDHL funded project studying the effect of early life nutrition on metabolic health via epigenetic pathways. I also oversee the University's contribution to the Pregnancy and Childhood Epigenetics (PACE) consortium. I have led two PACE projects (on maternal alcohol and body mass index), and been involved in many others.
  3. The causes and consequences of being born with a cleft lip and/or palate: I am part of the genetics team in the Cleft Collective cohort study, which is one of the largest research programmes of its kind in the world. The Cleft Collective was set up to address three key questions that families ask: 1) what has caused my child's cleft; 2) what are the best treatments for my child; 3) will my child be OK? So far, my work has shown that DNA methylation (epigenetics) may play a role in causing clefts. Furthermore, different types of cleft (cleft lip only, cleft palate only, cleft lip with palate) are potentially caused by different factors, so they should be treated separately in research. I also recently led some research showing that children born with a cleft are unlikely to be genetically predisposed to do poorly at school.
  4. Imbalance and bias in DOHaD research: most of my research falls under the umbrella of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). I strongly believe that critical thinking about our own scientific fields helps to highlight and address issues that might get in the way of producing robust, scientific evidence. I'm interested in uncovering, highlighting and addressing various sources of imbalance and bias in the DOHaD field to improve the evidence base and have written about this here and here.
  5. Reproductive choices and fertility: the average age at which parents are having their first child is rising, as is the number of people who remain childless. I am interested in the causes and consequences of both these phenomena in terms of population health.




Research keywords

  • Reproduction
  • Development
  • Pregnancy
  • prenatal
  • Epidemiology
  • Causal inference
  • Mendelian randomisation
  • Epigenetics
  • DOHaD
  • Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
  • Fetal Origins

Diseases related to this field of research

  • Cleft Lip and Palate
  • pregnancy complications


  • Pregnancy and Childhood Epigenetics consortium
  • NutriPROGRAM