The Dutch city of Rotterdam hosted the second meeting of LifeCycle, a European project in which ISGlobal is a partner
Last October, the Dutch city of Rotterdam hosted the second meeting of LifeCycle, a European project in which ISGlobal is a partner. The objective of the LifeCycle project is to study the health effects throughout the whole life cycle of early exposure to environmental stressors, including socioeconomic circumstances, the urban environment, and lifestyle-related determinants. To be specific, we focus on three major areas: cardiovascular, respiratory and mental health.
Birth cohorts have been established for many years in several countries, and the resulting data has been used to study these effects in children. Birth cohort studies follow a sample group of people representative of the general population from birth or earlier (pregnancy). At regular intervals, the participants answer questions about different aspects of their lives and undergo tests, etc. Throughout the study, measurements of the different pollutants to which they have been exposed are also recorded. This type of study allows researchers to identify associations between early exposure to certain environmental stressors and the development of diseases later in life. Once the factors harmful to health have been identified, steps can be taken to reduce future exposure to these factors, thereby improving the health of the population.
EU Child Cohort Network: Data from 250,000 children from ten countries will be included in this large-scale study
For the first time ever, the LifeCycle project will bring together the information collected over many years from different cohorts, mainly in Europe, to find answers to complex questions that require the study of large sample populations. Data from 250,000 children from ten countries will be included in this large-scale study. The ultimate aim is to bring together all the researchers in this field and to establish an open and sustainable network of cohorts called the EU Child Cohort Network, which will continue to exist after the LifeCycle project is completed.
ISGlobal is participating with the birth cohort established by the INMA Environment and Childhood Project and will take the lead in two work packages
The project is being led by Vincent Jaddoe's team at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, but the work packages of this large scale multidisciplinary and collaborative initiative are distributed among the participants across various countries. ISGlobal is participating with the birth cohort established by the INMA Environment and Childhood Project and will take the lead in two work packages: the integration of the data on stressors and the data on their effects on mental health trajectories.
The task of the team working on the first work package, led by Martine Vrijheid, is to construct new integrated exposure indices for socioeconomic circumstances, migration, the urban environment and early lifestyle factors for use in the EU Child Cohort Network. They will also have to describe and compare the patterns of exposure in the participating countries and to develop integrated exposure models to facilitate the assessment of the risk of disease associated with the presence of more than one stressor.
The second work package coordinated by ISGlobal is under the leadership of Jordi Sunyer and relates to the study of how the different exposures influence the development of cognitive functions and mental health. This is the work package I am working on. My task is to set up a group of experts in mental health and neurological development from the participating countries to agree on the methods to be used in this study. The main objectives of our group are as follows:
- To describe mental health and cognitive development trajectories from early stages of life, through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
- To identify early exposures that affect mental health trajectories throughout life.
- To investigate the mediating role of brain development in the relationship between stressors and mental health trajectories.
- To investigate the mediating role of DNA methylation in these relationships.
A great deal of effort will be put into ensuring that the results of all this research will eventually benefit society
In my opinion, one of the strong points of this project—apart from the obvious advantages the platform offers as a basis for all kinds of studies on the health effects of environmental exposures throughout life—is the direct application of the results to people's daily lives. A great deal of effort will be put into ensuring that the results of all this research will eventually benefit society. To achieve this aim, the project has set up a group solely to disseminate the results of this research in a clear and accessible way to scientists, clinicians, politicians and the general public. The same group will also create learning content based on the knowledge acquired in the project’s various work packages.
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under grant agreement No. 733206 (LifeCycle).