BHF Professor Mark Hanson is Director of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) Division and the Institute for Developmental Sciences at the University of Southampton School of Medicine.
His research focuses on how the conditions of our development in our mother’s womb influence our risk of diseases in later life, including heart and circulatory disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
As babies we are nourished by our mother’s stores of protein and fat, as well as what she eats in pregnancy. Our mother’s body composition and diet has a long-term effect on our health.
There is an increased risk of heart disease for people who had a poor environment in the womb, which can be influenced by factors such as a mother’s diet, exercise and stress levels. The underlying causes are little-understood, and are made worse by having a poor diet and level of fitness later in life.
Underlying this link between pre-birth and later life health are processes that alter the activity of certain genes in a child. Professor Hanson’s team are involved in laboratory and clinical research to uncover the processes and their effects in this branch of research, which is known as epigenetics.
Southampton Women's Survey
We also support part of the Southampton Women’s Survey, led by Professor Hanson’s team, which began recruiting 12,500 women aged 20 to 34 in 1998.
The survey is focusing on the women from this sample who have become pregnant, and following up their children at regular intervals. A large amount of data is being collected about the women's health and lifestyle before and during pregnancy, and their children's growth, health and lifestyle.
The study will provide valuable information about how our heart health is affected by different stages in our life and how, as parents, we can invest in our children's health from the outset.
The Southampton team is also leading an 'Initiative for Health', aimed at promoting a healthy future for young people in the city.
Professor Hanson is actively engaged in promoting public awareness of heart disease research, through publishing popular science books and forging links between the visual arts and science.
Can we use science to teach healthy lifestyles to children and young people? Professor Hanson thinks so. With funding from us, he is assessing a programme called Life Lab, where young people learn how their lifestyle may affect their future heart health and that of any children they might have.
Our Heart Matters team went behind the scenes at Life Lab. Find out more here.