4:55pm Monday 26th December 2005
By Claire Lomax
A major international study to determine the causes of childhood and adult illness will provide the people of Bradford with a unique opportunity to actively participate in a body of research which will leave a lasting legacy for future generations. Health Reporter CLAIRE LOMAX meets two members of the research team who will work on the project Born in Bradford.
The eyes of the research world will be on Bradford as it undertakes the biggest single piece of work into finding out the causes of disease.
The project Born in Bradford will follow the lives of 10,000 babies born in Bradford during 2007 and 2008 to find out what makes them ill and how external factors affect their health and wellbeing.
The study will be similar to the TV programmes A Child of Our Time and Seven Up, in which children are followed up at various stages in their lives.
However, the Bradford study, known as a birth cohort study, will be done on a massive scale.
It was the expansion of Leeds Medical School to include Bradford which paved the way for the biggest research programme ever attempted, says the man who was instrumental in developing the ambitious plan.
Professor Neil Small, of the University of Bradford, said: "With that came the recognition that we needed to embrace the research capability of the district."
So working alongside Professor John Wright of Bradford Teaching Hospitals the Born in Bradford study was created.
It will be the first multi-ethnic longitudinal birth cohort study in the world and will put Bradford on the international research map.
It is envisaged the study will provide a legacy for Bradford that will last 30 or 40 years and raise the profile of the city far beyond the UK.
With the co-operation of the families of the 10,000 babies which will be born in Bradford during 2007 and 2008 it is hoped to find out what makes us ill and how diseases can be prevented.
It has attracted the support of several universities - including the University of Bristol where Dr Debbie Lawlor is a senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health medicine.
Dr Lawlor is part of the research team which is helping to design the Bradford study and will be handling and analysing data when it is produced and also helping to write papers and describe the results to other researchers, health professionals and the people of Bradford.
She will also be supervising one of the first PhD students to work on the study, together with Prof Wright, the study's principal investigator.
Dr Lawlor may work in Bristol but she is a very proud Bradfordian.
She was born in the city and lived here until going to university at the age of 18.
In fact the house in which she was born was cleared to build the University of Bradford. She worked as a doctor in local hospitals and as a GP in the 1990s in Bradford and is looking forward to working once again with Bradford-based colleagues who are involved in the study.
"This will be a flagship study that will make very important medical contributions and I think will demonstrate that Bradford is a place for excellent health care and first class health research, " said Dr Lawlor.
"The other very exciting thing about the study is the commitment of all of us involved to work with the community so that the study, which will be very rigorous academically, will be able to answer questions that the whole community of Bradford think are important in relation to their health and well being.
"It will be something that all Bradfordians can and should be involved with and proud of."
Dr Lawlor has been involved in research for the last ten years which has shown that most adult diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, have their origins in early life.
The work she has been carrying out builds on work started by Professor David Barker who showed that people who were born in the 1920s and 1930s with a low birth weight were more likely to have heart disease and diabetes as adults.
"The work that I and others have been involved in has confirmed this finding for more contemporary babies and also found out that children's growth and diet and their family background are also important determinants of adult heart disease and diabetes, " said Dr Lawlor.
"We have known for a long time that there are important differences between birth weight, childhood and adult fatness and diabetes and heart disease risk between people born from a South Asian background and those from a European background.
"Babies born to Indian and Pakistani mothers, even when those mothers are themselves born and brought up in England, are smaller at birth than those born to European mothers.
"But as children and adults they tend to be fatter, particularly around their middle, and more at risk of diabetes and heart disease.
"For me this study is important because it will provide a unique opportunity to understand more about what causes diabetes and heart disease and how we can prevent it in South Asian and European families."
Andy Ness, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Bristol, has been involved in a similar project as deputy director of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which is perhaps the most detailed study of children ever undertaken.
His role will be to advise the Bradford Babies team on key scientific questions and to establish collaborations between research groups in Bristol and Bradford.
He said studies such as Bradford Babies offered the opportunity to study development and the emergence of disease over the whole of a person's lifetime and to tease out factors that shape people's experiences and lives.
"A number of birth cohort studies exist but very few have included large numbers of people from other ethnic groups, " he said.
"Bradford Babies thus offers the unique opportunity to study ethnic variations in development and health in a bi-ethnic prospective study.
"Explaining the differences between these groups may help our understanding of the causes of disease."
The research will also benefit from the experience of Professor Raj Bhopal from Edinburgh University, Professor David Leon from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professors Chris Wild and Trish McKinney from the University of Leeds, who are providing expert input into the epidemiology and genetic aspects of the study.
Professor Noel Cameron will be providing human biology and cohort expertise from the University of Loughborough.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Born In Bradford is a unique opportunity for people to get involved in the world's biggest study into children's health which is taking place in our city.
A £1 million community fundraising appeal, backed by the Telegraph & Argus, has been launched towards the estimated £3 million cost.
The money raised through the appeal will go towards paying for research equipment, research staff and laboratory staff to run the project and to analyse the results to come up with the causes of common childhood illnesses. We are urging businesses, community groups and individuals to back the appeal which will help improve the health of future generations.
To support the appeal, contact project manager Dr Pauline Raynor on (01274) 364021 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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