Obesity, mechanisms of action, and long-term health risks
Worldwide obesity affects about 700 million adults and the prevalence is still rising steadily in most countries. Although the health effects of obesity, or adiposity, on cardio-metabolic diseases and many cancers are well established, uncertainty remains about its role in aetiology of many other diseases. Moreover, there are still large knowledge gaps about the biological mechanisms linking adiposity with different diseases. The large prospective studies such as China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB) and UK Biobank (UKB) are well positioned to address these evidence gaps.
The project will utilise existing and emerging data in the CKB and UKB, each involving 0.5 million adults. The CKB has already recorded more than 80,000 deaths and more than 2 million episodes of hospitalisation of more than 5000 different disease types. The exposure and long-term health data are being complemented by genetics, metabolomics (e.g. ~250 metabolites) and proteomics (e.g. ~3,000 OLNIK proteins and more than 7000 SomaScan proteins) data in a subset of participants. These, together with similar data in the UKB, will enable comprehensive investigation of the long-term health effects of adiposity in diverse populations and discovery research into the biological mechanisms linking adiposity with disease risks, using conventional and novel analytic approaches.
RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING
The specific DPhil project will be developed according to candidate’s interests and aptitude, and may include some of the following objectives:
- To examine the associations of adiposity with risks of selected specific disease (e.g. neurological diseases, musculoskeletal diseases);
- To investigate the relative importance of different measures of adiposity in predicting risks of specific diseases;
- To determine the causal relevance of adiposity for risks of specific diseases, using Mendelian randomisation approaches;
- To explore, using the emerging omics and genomic data, the mechanisms linking adiposity with specific diseases and traits;
- To identify, using novel analytic approaches and pipelines, the protein biomarkers that may causally affect the levels of adiposity;
- To compare the associations of adiposity with specific diseases and traits in CKB versus UK Biobank and to explore the factors contributing to differences.
The student will gain in-house training and research experience in systematic literature review, data analysis and scientific writing. By the end of the DPhil, the student will be competent to plan, undertake and interpret analyses of large datasets, and to report research findings, including a few peer-reviewed publications as the lead author.
FIELD WORK, SECONDMENTS, INDUSTRY PLACEMENTS AND TRAINING
The project will be based within the CKB group in the Big Data Institute. There are excellent facilities and a world-class community of population health, data science and genomic medicine researchers.
The candidates should have a good first degree and MSc in epidemiology, statistics, genetics, biomedical science, or a related subject, with a strong interest in population health.