Palloni Receives Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council

Congratulations to Alberto Palloni, CDHA affiliate and former director, on receiving a prestigious Advanced Investigator grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Advanced Investigator awards fund ground-breaking, high-risk projects led by principal investigators who are “exceptional leaders in terms of originality and significance of their research contributions” with proven track records of achievement.

Palloni, Samuel Preston Professor of Sociology, emeritus, joined the Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography of the Spanish National Research Council in February. There, he is leading the ERC project “Early Conditions, Delayed Adult Effects and Morbidity, Disability and Mortality in Modern Human Populations.” Known as the ECHO Project, Palloni and the research team—which includes Sebastián Daza, a PhD candidate in the CDHA training program—hope to uncover links between early life exposures and adult health and disease. This field of research, Developmental Origins of Adult Health and Disease, or DOHaD, has the potential to shift scientific understanding of human illness and bridge population health, epigenetics, and developmental and evolutionary biology.

With a budget of over €2.8 million, the researchers hope to break new ground developing innovative formal models for illnesses and mortality that incorporate genetic, epigenetic, and socioeconomic determinants of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Over the next five years, Palloni and his research team in collaboration with researchers from academinc instituions in Spain will undertake a multi-pronged research agenda. First, they plan to test hypotheses of DOHaD predictions against population data. Next, jointly with researchers in bioinformatics, mathematical biology, and evolutionary biology, Palloni and colleagues will design models of the molecular dynamics that modify the epigenome in response to external cues and integrate this with models of parental transmission of preferences, values, and habits to children, and socioeconomic changes over the life cycle. By doing so, the research team hopes to shed light on how early conditions alters the adult risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, as well as comborbidities, fragility and disability, and mortality. Finally, depending on the results of these earlier steps, the research team will reformulate standard theories of human health and mortality to make them applicable to a wider population than they are now.

The team’s ultimate target is to assess future health needs among adults and the elderly, estimate health expenditures associated with the morbidity load that the metabolic syndrome and comorbidities may require in the future and, finally, identify health policy interventions that might attenuate their impact.