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Two new epigenetics grants to study how early life experiences affect health

4 August 2015

Two researchers from the School of Social and Community Medicine have been awarded grants as part of £3 million project to study the impact of early life experiences on lifelong health.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have awarded eight grants in total to biological and social scientists across the UK to help advance the understanding of epigenetics — the study of how biological traits are affected by environmental factors.

The two Bristol recipients are Dr Laura Howe, who has been awarded £249,391 for a project entitled ‘INTERpreting epigenetic signatures in STudies of Early Life Adversity (InterStELA)’; and Professor Caroline Relton, who has been awarded £834,323 for her study ‘Epigenetics: Environment, Embodiment and Equality’.

Existing evidence shows that experiences in early life are linked to health and behavioural outcomes in the future, but the ways in which these experiences make a difference are not yet fully understood. Epigenetics studies could have huge implications for both health and social policy, and the projects will all look at practical ways to prevent certain situations from having an adverse effect on future health and wellbeing.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Executive Director of Science, said: ‘This innovative collaboration between biological and social scientists will help us to understand the impact of early life experiences on future health. Many big public health issues associated with ageing have significant sociological as well as biological dimensions. By bridging the gap between disciplines, we will help build an excellent, multidisciplinary research community in the field of epigenetics.’

Professor Jane Elliott, ESRC Chief Executive, said: ‘I’m delighted that ESRC and BBSRC have worked together so closely to fund these excellent projects. Not only will this research provide fascinating insights and potentially have an impact on policy now, but will build interdisciplinary research skills that will be invaluable in these areas for the years ahead.’

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