Through our research we aim to develop a better understanding of plasticity and its implications in the context of human health and livestock production. This understanding will inform the development of early-life interventions to offset or exploit plastic responses for improved health outcomes.
Developmental plasticity is the ability of a developing organism to respond to the environment by changing its biology. When an organism makes such changes early in life, the changes may go on to have implications throughout that organism’s life course and perhaps the life course of following generations.
A growing body of research implies that the rising incidence of obesity and related diseases in humans, and growth potential in lambs and calves, have their origins in developmental plasticity. Therefore, the concept of developmental plasticity has implications for two very different areas of importance to society and our economy – human health and agricultural productivity. It is this remarkable link between early life and later health or productivity that drives the Centre’s science.
These plastic responses can take the form of subtle yet persistent alterations to the developmental trajectory – lasting changes to the way the individual grows and changes throughout life – which may later prove to be either advantageous or disadvantageous. A developmental trajectory resulting in physiology inappropriate for the environment may manifest as altered disease risk in later life or as altered production characteristics in livestock.
Gravida prioritises its investment into research areas that will have the largest impact on human health and animal productivity when translated into clinical interventions, public health policy, education and farming practice. We are focused on research that can be directly influential on government policies and national strategies long term. Emphasis is placed on the translation of our findings in a way that is accessible to all stakeholders, policy makers and the public.
Gravida scientists currently contribute to Ministry of Health (MOH) working groups including the National Maternity Standards, clinical guidelines groups, and MOH’s group of new maternal and child nutrition and physical activity projects. Our scientists are part of national health policy groups such as the NZ Growth Hormone Committee and the HRC’s Biomedical Science Committee and are involved in the National Science Challenges. We contribute to national economic modelling initiatives, for example through the Growing Up in study. We also have a history of supporting and developing new education and outreach programmes such as the LENScience education initiative and farming learning programme.
Gravida supports scientists-in-training by helping them become involved in our science. We offer funding to ensure that our young and emerging scientists gain the maximum benefit from their exposure to our international networks and advanced infrastructure. We also hold annual scientific writing retreats for postgraduate students, who have further opportunity to hone their research and presentation skills at our annual science symposium.
Strategic partnerships enable us to achieve our goal to translate our research into genuine economic and societal benefits for all ers. We share the same aspirations with many professional health groups and research organisations and by working together, we are able to ensure that research is translated into improvements in public health policy, improved clinical practices, innovative education programmes, more productive farming, and increased science literacy and health awareness within society.
Commercial partnerships can also provide opportunities for extending our impact far beyond the initial funding provided by the Government. By working together, we will be able to markedly increase our efficacy and impact.
We welcome conversations with researchers and organisations with similar interests or capabilities which will enhance the work of the CoRE. Our raison d'être is to establish and promote multi-site, multi-disciplinary collaboration. Interested researchers are welcome to contact directly our Principal Investigators or our Director, Professor Philip Baker, if they wish to explore opportunities for collaboration.
In addition to funding researchers, Gravida also collaborates with a number of internationally-based researchers including North America, the UK, Australia, South Asia and Jamaica.