Prenatal Programming

This team investigates the influence of the early life environment on later health consequences of the offspring. Main research focus is the prenatal programming of cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors, including childhood growth and obesity.
The associations identified between prenatal environment, genetic background, and cardiometabolic health, using data from birth cohorts at Maastricht University, may generate new hypotheses that can be tested in both experimental and clinical intervention studies. The new knowledge may lead to strategies for preventing the development of chronic diseases through interventions or strategies implemented at a very young age, long before cardiometabolic risk factors manifest and with the ultimate goal of identifying individuals with an enhanced risk for disease.

We are owner of the MEFAB cohort and collaborate with the East Flanders Prospective Twin Survey and with other birth cohorts of Clinical Epidemiology of Maastricht University:

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Contact: Dr. Marij Gielen

Current projects


East Flanders Prospective Twin Study

The East Flanders Prospective Twin Survey (EFPTS) is a registry of multiple births in the province of East Flanders, Belgium. Since its start in 1964, over 10,000 twin-pairs have been registered. EFPTS is a population-based cohort, with the possibility of long-term follow-up. At birth basic perinatal data are recorded, placental biopsies are stored, and chorion type and zygosity are established. Therewith providing unique information on the moment of splitting of monozygotic twins. Since the genetic background is the same for monozygotic twins, this population is ideal to study the consequences of early embryological events and epigenetic programming.
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Our original overarching goal in establishing the Maastricht Essential Fatty Acid Birth (MEFAB) cohort study was to investigate the extent to which early essential fatty acid status influences later development and health. This cohort is distinctive as the sole worldwide prospective mother-child cohort with comprehensive data on the plasma fatty acid composition of mothers at various points during pregnancy and at delivery. We conducted in-person visits with parents and children during early childhood, mid-childhood, and late childhood. Additionally, at young adulthood, we conducted an online follow-up evaluation. Analysis of these observational data could help identify critical developmental periods during which dietary fat modulation has the potential to impact health later in life. It also provides valuable insights for updating intervention strategies related to prenatal nutrition. Recently, the focus has shifted from essential fatty acid status to prenatal exposure to the built environment, encompassing factors such as pollution and green space, and their influence on development and health.
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