David Barker, M.D., Ph.D., FRS, is director of international collaborations for the Moore Institute.
Studies around the world have shown that fetal programming of adult disease is a universal phenomenon. There are, however, geographical variations in fetal nutrition and growth and in the pattern of diseases that is programmed. If the Moore Institute is to become a major force in improving the nutrition of girls and young women, it needs to have access to major studies in other countries.
Among these, the Helsinki Birth Cohort is one of the most important. It comprises 20,000 men and women who were born in Helsinki, Finland during 1924-1944 and have been followed up through their lives. Their size at birth, maternal body size, childhood growth, reproductive history, educational attainment, illnesses are closely documented. This ongoing study is funded by the National Institute of Aging through OHSU (Principal Investigator, David Barker). In more than 100 publications it has a) extended the range of diseases that are now known to be programmed and include certain cancers; b) shown the importance of paths of childhood growth following small size at birth; and c) shown the importance of maternal body size and placental size and shape in programming later disease.
The Moore Institute also has access to the Dutch Hunger Winter cohort that comprises 2,000 men and women who were in utero before, during and after the wartime famine in western Holland (Principal Investigator, Tessa Roseboom). The famine began abruptly in the winter of 1944 and ended after 7 months. Continued funding is being sought from the NIH through OHSU. To date the study has shown that people in utero during the famine have increased rates of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Continued investment in the Helsinki and Dutch Famine Birth Cohorts is throwing new light on the early origins of aging and life expectancy.
The Moore Institute also has close links to a network of studies in India (Principal Investigator, Caroline Fall). These include the first-ever randomized trial of preconceptional food supplementation among young married women living in the slums of Mumbai, and longitudinal studies of young adults born in Delhi and children born in Mysore. The Institute is also associated with studies of placental size shape and function in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia (Principal Investigator, Saleh Alwasel).