Adaptations to adverse events in very early development often predict risk for disease onset that occurs years to decades later. There is increasing evidence that such adaptations are associated with risk for diseases as diverse as autism, obesity, diabetes, schizophrenia, cancer, hypertension, asthma, myocardial infarction, and even Alzheimer’s. Because of the years to decades separation between cause and effect, mechanistic and interventional research into this area has been difficult in humans. However, interventions very early in development are likely to be milder, cheaper, and less toxic than interventions later in life. Recent emphasis on mechanisms of programming has provided a rational basis for the observation that adaptations to adverse early life events can produce long lasting, even permanent changes in the structure and function of an individual.
In humans, longitudinal studies have the potential to involve many investigators from different disciplines to learn how adverse conditions and their prevention or improvement at an earlier stage in life contribute to health and disease at later stages of life. There also is great benefit in studying the same condition at different points in the lifespan by individuals who focus on specific stages of life but now collaborative in a unique, “at the same time,” approach. Collectively, such approaches can show how preemption of diseases and prevention of their later life consequences can improve health and reduce the otherwise exponential increase in the burden of disease and its economic impact, on individuals and on society that occur over the lifespan. Many faculty in the CCTSI and across our entire institution are involved in such research.