The £28.5 million funding comes from the science portfolio of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), and will be used for the study of birth cohorts. The new facility will be a collaboration between the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Birth Cohorts are a set of studies which track a large sample of babies from birth into adulthood, gathering information on their lives as they grow up. These studies have produced a series of important findings which include for example the risks of smoking in pregnancy, childhood asthma and the link with parental occupational exposure to allergens, the origins and consequences of child poverty, and the long-term impacts of education and training. British birth cohort studies are recognised worldwide as unique and remarkable data resources which have underpinned innovative research on the health, wellbeing and socio-economic status of a wide range of people in the UK.
This pioneering facility will, for the first time, enable the co-ordination of data collection across existing birth cohort studies which span over 60 years. The most significant impact of the facility will be its ability to allow analysis across the generations by comparing patterns of activity, at similar ages, amongst the different cohorts’ members. For example, it will enable the analysis of the latter 20th century/early 21st century phenomenon of women delaying starting a family – what are the social, economic and educational impacts of having older parents compared with earlier generations? As such, it will provide the bedrock for cutting edge research to be undertaken, across the lifecourse, into such important areas as health and poverty.
The new resource will also expand the series by creating a new cohort to extend the series over a further 12 years. The study will follow a group of newborn infants in 2012 and will be designed to investigate how pre-natal influences, as well as the interplay of genetic and environmental factors, affect human development.
Speaking about the announcement, Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said, “Obviously, this is tremendous news for the ESRC. The research facility will unlock the potential of the world renowned Birth Cohort Studies and will position the UK at the forefront of pioneering research in the areas of public health, education and social integration of individuals and families. Such information is crucial in enabling policymakers to understand the ever more complex nature of 21st century society in Britain.”
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said “Birth cohort studies are a vital tool for increasing our understanding of how our environment and development before and after we are born influence our health and predisposition to diseases in later life. We look forward to working with the ESRC in maximising the potential of these important information resources.”
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