Why do some people, given the same apparent set of risk factors, develop certain diseases and others do not? British scientist David Baker, MD, PhD, is examining this question from a unique perspective.
Barker, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, is a pioneer in a field known as fetal programming. Fetal programming is the process in which environmental influences during prenatal development alter the bodyâ€™s structuresâ€”for life.
He and other experts spoke on the fundamentals of the subject recently at the first Predicting Lifespan Health Conference at Emory University. â€œWhat weâ€™re really looking for is just a few core mechanisms, which are linked to early human development and lead to a plethora of disorders,â€ says Barker.
Emerging evidence suggests that chronic diseases of adult life, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, have their origin through fetal programming, explains Michelle Lampl, associate director of the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute. â€œThese diseases and others are initiated by adverse influences before birth,â€ says Lampl.
Speakers addressed fetal programming and the placenta, long-term cardiovascular disease and kidney function in low birth-weight babies, epigenetics and immunity, as well as postnatal influences from infant diet and growth patterns.