You are what your mother ate

02 July 2015

The 10th Crick Symposium on Nutrition and the Developmental Origins of Disease 

On June 25 2015, an international cohort of researchers and healthcare professionals attended the Wellcome Collection to participate in the latest Crick symposium on nutrition and its role in the development of disease. The sell-out event saw a range of stimulating talks, focusing on the importance of diet during the early stages of life and the lasting effects that childhood nutrition can have on a person's health as an adult. 

Newborn children depend on their mothers for sustenance and in recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the lifestyle and diet of a mother throughout pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding can have dramatic effects on the long-term wellbeing of a child. Obesity and its associated disorders provide some of the most convincing evidence for this effect, with children born to overweight mothers considerably more likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in later life. 

The global increase in childhood obesity is a matter of serious public health concern and talks from Atul Singhal (UCL Institute of Child Health) and Lucilla Poston (Kings College London) focused on the topic of over-nutrition. Providing a series of insights from the clinic, these presentations highlighted the way that positive maternal lifestyle changes can benefit the development and health of a child. 

The mechanisms that cause early life nutrition to 'program' an individual's risk of disease in later life are not fully understood and large parts of the symposium were spent examining the biological processes that underpin this so-called concept of nutritional programming. Sebastien Bouret (University of Southern California), Anne Ferguson-Smith and Susan Ozanne (both from the University of Cambridge) joined fellow scientists from the Crick and its partner institutions in discussions covering a variety of topics. These ranged from the role of the 'hunger hormones', leptin and ghrelin, in the development of the brain to the surprising effects that nutrient availability during early life can have upon the life span of fruit flies. 

Symposium co-organiser and group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, Alex Gould was enthusiastic about the day. "This symposium was an exciting opportunity for the Crick to reach out to a diverse range of speakers and attendees, from health policy professionals and clinicians right through to basic research scientists. The clinical significance of decades of research into the developmental origins of health and disease has not always been clear. This has changed over the past few years and there is now strong evidence from numerous angles that this research is likely to have far reaching implications for public health policy and nutritional advice." 

Crick symposia are held three times a year, bringing together researchers from a range of disciplines to promote collaboration and to showcase high quality science. Information on past symposia and future events can be found here.