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Ministers urged to use epigenetic research when tackling public health problems

17 September 2012
Appeared in BioNews 673

Significant improvements could be made to public health by building upon the findings of epigenetic research, according to a leading expert on epigenetics and child health.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, Emeritus Professor of Paediatric Genetics at University College London's Institute of Child Health and Visiting Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the University of Bristol, says that the appointment of new health ministers as part of this month's government reshuffle marks an opportunity to take a fresh approach to tackling the UK's largest public health problems.

Upon being appointed as public health minister, Anna Soubry told the press that health is as much about culture as it is about NHS reform, pointing to the example of obesity and overconsumption. But Professor Pembrey says ministers need to understand that culture impacts not only the health of the present generation but, in some circumstances, also the health of future generations via epigenetics.

'Public health needs to embrace epigenetic research if it is to understand, and so tackle, the rise in obesity', says Professor Pembrey.

'Epigenetics is the science of enduring but ultimately reversible changes in the pattern of gene activity that do not involve alteration of the DNA sequence. Early life experience, and even the age at which your father started smoking, seem to influence the risk of obesity'.

'The pattern of epigenetic marks on DNA can reflect the prevailing environment. It is now possible to analyse this pattern from the tiny blood spots that are taken from newborn babies during the heel prick test'.

Professor Pembrey made his comments prior to his presentation 'Are Early Life and Ancestral Experiences Captured by Our Genomes?' given on Monday 17 September 2012, at the British Society for Human Genetics Annual Conference, held at the University of Warwick.

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