Gaining insight into mechanisms and prevention
Healthy ageing starts before conception and is further determined during embryonic and foetal life. The growth and development of the future adult is affected by the genetic and epigenetic programming of gametes and preimplantation embryos.
According to the Barker hypothesis, the period of pregnancy and the intrauterine environment are crucial to the tendency to develop diseases during adulthood, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, and possibly psychological vulnerability.
The impact of lifestyle and environmental factors
An unfavourable intrauterine environment can be caused by lifestyle factors such as drug exposure, alcohol consumption, smoking, unhealthy diet, overweight, and chronic psychological stress. These may lead to permanent changes in the structure, function, physiology, and metabolism of the placenta and the foetus.
Potentially unfavourable environments have a negative impact on foetal organ development and gene expression, resulting in a higher susceptibility to the development of chronic disease in later life.
Impact on the mother
Not only a future child may have an increased risk of health problems, but also a mother who has pre-existing diseases or who develops pregnancy-related diseases, such as pre-eclampsia, is at increased risk of future health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and renal disease.
Mechanisms of change in placental function and maternal physiology
The exploration of mechanisms and factors that are responsible for changes in placental function and maternal physiology can provide insight into the changes that occur in the mother, the foetus, and the future adult.
Cohort studies, follow-up studies on interventions prior to or during pregnancy as well as animal experimental models within the ROAHD research programme will help to unravel both associations and pathophysiological mechanisms.