This research programme aims to understand why babies who are exposed to a poor diet in the womb are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as adults. Diabetes is a major health problem in the UK and western countries. Over 2 million people in the UK alone are affected by this disease.
We know that babies who were not well nourished during development are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and associated diseases (heart disease, kidney failure). These conditions have a major impact on the quality of life of the individual and how long they live. Therefore, it is very important to understand how early diet has such a profound effect on health and lifespan as this may help us develop new medicines for these common diseases.
We know that one way in which a poor diet during early life impacts on health is through “epigenetic” processes. This is the way the environment controls which parts of DNA are used to make proteins and therefore how well a cell works. Using a rat model, we have already looked at a single important gene for diabetes and shown that early nutrition has a major impact on how much protein the cell makes from this gene. Recent advances in genome research will now allow us to look at all the genes in our DNA (~22,000). This represents a major advance in this area of science. It will allow us to identify faulty genes that cause diabetes because of poor early diet. By doing these studies we will be able to find individuals at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and develop treatments to prevent them developing disease.