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Deborah Lawlor

Professor of Epidemiology, University of Bristol

Researchers are harnessing the detail delivered by population data to predict people who could be at risk of heart disease.

Detailed population data is playing an increasing role in predicting those most at risk of cardiovascular disease and what the key causes of disease are.

Epidemiologists can use this for early detection, or identify preventive measures, and work with physicians to ensure the best outcomes for different heart conditions, such as congenital heart disease.

Deborah Lawlor, Professor of Epidemiology and British Heart Foundation (BHF) Chair in Clinical Epidemiology and Cardiovascular Science at the Bristol Heart Institute (BHI), explains that clinical epidemiology (population health research) is a crucial part of cardiovascular research at the University of Bristol.

Risk factors

Her team investigates ways to slow the progression of heart and circulatory diseases and understand how such diseases can develop across a life span.

One particular focus is on how cardiovascular disease might manifest itself during pregnancy – factoring in levels of smoking, obesity and other health aspects – and how that might relate to future heart disease in mother and child.

Clinical epidemiology supports understanding risk factors for heart conditions, with that approach having been boosted significantly in the last 15 years with large cohorts, such as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s), Born in Bradford and UK Biobank enabling researchers to follow women and their children over their lives.

One particular focus is on how cardiovascular disease might manifest itself during pregnancy.

Exciting time to be part of research

Professor Lawlor says as well as social and health data, genotype and factors that might change how genes are expressed can be measured along with proteins, metabolites and medications on a large scale in human studies of  heart disease via cost-effective high throughput platforms.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to be doing epidemiology as we can get a much better understanding of human physiology and factors related to heart disease,” she adds.

Professor Lawlor, who supervises several early career researchers supporting a new generation of epidemiologists in a fast-moving field, emphasises the importance of collaboration with other research groups, cardiologists and cardiac surgeons.

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