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Alberto Palloni to Join the Spanish National Research Council

Press Release: Alberto Palloni will coordinate a new ERC Advanced project at CSIC that will demonstrate the theories linking developmental biology, epigenetics and human health and mortality

Alberto Palloni, Samuel Preston Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will join the Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography (IEGD) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) from February 1st, thanks to the support of the European Research Council (ERC) through an Advanced Grant called ‘Early conditions, delayed adult effects and morbidity, disability and mortality in modern human populations' (ECHO). Diego Ramiro Fariñas, Scientific Researcher and Head of the Population Studies Department of the IEGD will also be involved in its implementation. In addition, the team will be composed by a predoctoral and a postdoctoral student, a technician and several doctors in various disciplines such as genetics/epigenetics, statistics and computer programming, for which a recruitment period will open soon. Their work will also be supported by a group of external national and international experts.

This ambitious five-year project with a budget of more than EUR 2 800 000 aims to reformulate and generalize standard theories of human health and mortality. It proposes new formal models and a systematic agenda to empirically test hypotheses that link early biological growth and development, epigenetic changes across the life course, and adult human illness, disability and mortality. We seek to break new ground developing innovative formal models for illnesses and mortality, testing new hypotheses about the evolution of human health and, to the extent permitted by findings, reformulating standard theories to make them applicable to a less restrictive segment of populations than they are now.

Over the past two decades there has been massive growth of research on the nature of delayed adult effects of conditions experienced in early life. This field of research is known as the Developmental Origins of Adult Health and Disease (DOHaD). Increasing evidence suggests that the mechanisms that are implicated are epigenetic and constitute an evolved adaptation selected over thousands of years to improve fitness in changing landscapes. The emergence of DOHaD is as close as we will ever come to a paradigmatic shift in the study of human health, disability and mortality. The most tantalizing possibility is that advances in our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms will shed light on pathways linking early exposures and delayed adult health thus fundamentally transforming our understanding of human illnesses and, in one fell swoop, bridge population health, epigenetics, and developmental and evolutionary biology. The overarching goal of this project is to contribute to this nascent area of study by (a) proposing new formal demographic models of health, disability and mortality; (b) empirically testing DOHaD predictions with population data; (c) designing and implementing a microsimulation model with modules that represent epigenetic changes and exposures over the life course as a means to  verify DOHaD predictions about two conditions, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and (d) assessing the adult health, disability and mortality toll implicated by relations between early conditions, obesity and T2D. The project will use a variety of global databases such as the Human Mortality Database, the Latin American Mortality Database or the Longitudinal Population Database of Andalusia, and has received formal support from the Spanish National Statistics Institute and the Andalusian Institute of Statistics and Cartography.