The burdens of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis continue to increase in this country and abroad. These chronic conditions are the products of gene-environmental interactions, which have their roots in infancy or childhood and are difficult or impossible to reverse in adulthood. Analyses of high-throughput “-omic” data enable investigators to identify the origins of these diseases, to develop biomarkers that predict disease susceptibility, and to identify targets for interventions. The PGNB encourages research that focuses on detecting the earliest aberrations in molecular and biochemical pathways that lead to disease later in life.
The Branch’s broad portfolio on issues related to preventing chronic diseases emphasizes a continued need for research on childhood biomarkers for disease later in life, as well as steps which can be taken during childhood to mitigate or prevent conditions, such as atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis. Decision science may be useful in translating evidence-based information about childhood risk factors for these diseases into clinical practice and public health interventions.
Epigenetics is also an area of research that will help advance the PGNB interest in the molecular biology of growth and development. Epigenetic changes serve as markers of longitudinal changes during growth and development and of exposure to nutrients, stress, and xenobiotics in the environment. Gaining a better understanding of epigenetic processes could also inform an understanding of the developmental origins of health and disease. The relationship between epigenetics and the origins of health and disease is so complex that it becomes a problem of systems biology. Given the rapid development of the epigenetics field investigator-initiated research will be the most appropriate mechanism to support this line of scientific inquiry.
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