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Personal profile

Research interests

Biography

I'm a Senior Lecturer at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in the Population Health Sciences division of the Bristol Medical School. I started at this department as a postdoc in 2013, following my PhD at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh (2010-2013). Prior to that, I completed an MSc in Reproduction and Development at the University of Bristol (2008-2010) and a BSc (hons) in Biology at Cardiff University (2003-2007).

I was born in Bristol and grew up a few miles south in Nailsea. 

I'm on Twitter here: @ammegandchips

Research Interests

I'm interested in reproductive and developmental molecular epidemiology and my research spans three main areas:

The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

Traditionally, research on the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) has focused on the influence the lifestyle of pregnant women on the health of their children. Although much of the evidence has been correlative (rather than showing robust causal effects), it has been used to back up public health policies and clinical practices that seek to change pregnant women's behaviour. Through my research, I am trying to improve the causal evidence base in DOHaD by studying potentially causal biological mechanisms (chiefly involving epigenetics) and using genetic and statistical approaches to infer causality. I am also trying to expand the traditional focus on pregnant women to study paternal factors and the wider determinants of health as well.

  • Through my Exploring Prenatal influences On Childhood Health (EPoCH) study, I am studying the extent to which maternal and paternal lifestyles might affect the health of their children. EPoCH is funded by an MRC New Investigator Research Grant (NIRG) and you can find out more about the study here.

  • I also co-ordinate the University of Bristol's involvement in the NutriPROGRAM project, which is an JPI ERA-HDHL funded project studying the effect of early life nutrition on metabolic health via epigenetic pathways.

  • I used to oversee the University's contribution to the Pregnancy and Childhood Epigenetics (PACE) consortium where I led three PACE projects (on paternal BMI, maternal alcohol and body mass index) and contributed results to many others.

  • I'm interested in uncovering, highlighting and addressing various sources of imbalance and bias in the DOHaD field to improve the evidence base and have written about this here and here.

The causes and consequences of being born with a cleft lip and/or palate

I conduct molecular epidemiological research using the Cleft Collective cohort study, which is one of the largest research programmes of its kind in the world. The Cleft Collective was set up to address three key questions that families ask: 1) what has caused my child's cleft; 2) what are the best treatments for my child; 3) will my child be OK? I have led work showing that:

Women's reproductive health

Throughout my career, I have been interested in women's reproductive health. As a masters student on the MSc in Reproduction and Development (which I now co-direct), I was surprised to learn that we still don't fully know why women go into labour when they do. Our limited understanding makes it difficult to predict and prevent pregnancy complications like preterm labour. More recently, I have begun a series of research projects looking at the epidemiology of menstrual dysfunction and the impact of menstruation on women's health and quality of life. Again, current understanding in this area is severely limited, and considering the huge number of people affected, the area is under-researched.

  • Current work: several students under my supervision are exploring data on menstrual dysfunctions in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We are interested in identifying environmental, epigenetic and genetic factors associated with experiencing menstrual dysfunctions, as well as the impact of these conditions on women's physical and mental health and quality of life.

Teaching

I teach and lead courses on a range of topics using a variety of methods. I enjoy designing courses, sessions and assessments that are 'constructively alligned', which helps student to meet the intended learning outcomes for the teaching. My sessions are interactive and use a range of media and activities. I particularly like using a 'flipped classroom' approach where students are given some material to read/watch/complete in their own time before coming to a live session to participate in interactive discussions and group tasks. My teaching roles include:

  • Co-director of the innovative distance learning MSc in Reproduction and Development

  • Unit co-lead of Molecular Epidemiology in Non-communicable Disease, part of the MSc in Epidemiology

  • Lead of a short course in Epigenetic Epidemiology (2016-2020)

  • Project supervisor for the MSc in Epidemiology and the MSc in Reproduction and Development

  • Personal tutor for students on the MSc in Public Health and the MSc in Reproduction and Development

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • ALSPAC
  • Bristol Population Health Science Institute

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  • Gene Genies

    Gemma C Sharp (Organiser)

    1 Aug 20141 Oct 2016

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesFestival, exhibition, performance

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