ISEMPH Presentation Featured Speaker: Peter Gluckman

ISEMPH - Peter Gluckman, University of Auckland

“Evolution and development: From theory and controversy to public policy”
Sir Peter Gluckman FRS
Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, New Zealand 

There have been many controversies at the evolutionary-developmental interface, one in particular has been continuing for over 30 year, how to explain why prenatal developmental exposures lead to a greater risk of obesity and non-communicable disease (NCD) in later life. Clearly “evolutionary mismatch” consequent on the recent intensification of the obesogenic environment development is a factor but it is necessary to explain why developmental exposures in utero and infancy exacerbate that risk. While epidemiological and experimental observations that maternal stress and maternal malnutrition predispose to later NCD risk, public health rejected the significance of these observations for over 20 years due to a lack of a conceptual and mechanistic basis. An initial attempt at a conceptual paradigm (the “thrifty phenotype hypothesis”) invoked concepts of adaptive developmental plasticity.  While not supported by empirical data, this led to the “predictive adaptive response” (PAR) paradigm spurring considerable theoretical and empirical research as well as debate. Recently the PAR model has received empirical support. Molecular epigenetic studies have added weight to the conceptual arguments providing estimates of the significance of these developmental and trans-generational effects. These evolutionary arguments played an important role in shifting public health attitudes and are reflected in the 2011 Declaration on NCDs by the UN General Assembly and in the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) established in 2014 leading to a redirection of preventative efforts in obesity towards developmental factors.

Professor Gluckman is an international advocate for science, promoting the translation of discoveries in biomedical research into improvements in long term health outcomes. His work with organisations such as the WHO has brought growing recognition of the importance of a healthy start to life. His research focuses on what gives us a healthy start to life: understanding how a baby’s environment between conception and birth determines its childhood development and life-long health - and the impact that this knowledge has for individuals and whole populations.
His research has won him numerous awards and international recognition including Fellowship of the Commonwealth’s most prestigious scientific organisation, The Royal Society (London). He is the only New Zealander elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science (USA) and the Academy of Medical Sciences of Great Britain. In 2009 he accepted an appointment as the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. He continues to be based in the Liggins Institute as an active researcher and member of the Institute. A University of Auckland Distinguished Professor, he is Professor of Paediatric and Perinatal Biology.
He is the author of over 500 scientific papers and reviews and editor of eight books, including two influential textbooks in his subject area. with colleague Mark Hanson of The University of Southampton, has co-authored two books for non-scientific audiences: The Fetal Matrix (2004) which summarises his ideas on how events in early life lead to altered disease risk in later life and Mismatch - why our world no longer fits our bodies (2006).