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Nature or nurture - How environmental and genetic factors affect health

May 23, 2013

Mount Sinai Hospital launches largest Canadian study of its kind
Mount Sinai Hospital has just launched the largest Canadian study of its kind to track the health of women and their babies. Thousands of women will participate in the Ontario Birth Study to help scientists and health practitioners understand how genes and the environment interact to shape our potential health risks.
Maternal nutrition during pregnancy, exposure to different stimuli in the womb, and exercise in early childhood have major impacts not only on susceptibility to disease during pregnancy but also on childhood health problems like obesity. By observing the health of pregnant women, tracking the progress of developing fetuses and monitoring early infancy into childhood, the study hopes to discover how many chronic diseases might be avoided.  
Drs. Alan Bocking and Stephen Lye, world-renowned experts in developmental health and scientists at Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, are leading a team of more than 30 clinicians and research staff to transform the standard of care for women and their babies, leading to a more personalized approach to their care. The Ontario Birth Study is in collaboration with the University of Toronto''s Fraser Mustard Institute for Human Development, which focuses on how critical the earliest days of life are to well-being across the lifespan.
“Everyone wants their children to grow up healthy, happy and do well in their lives,” says Dr. Stephen Lye, who also holds the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary Chair in Women's and Infants' Health Research. “What we are exposed to in the womb, the nutrition of pregnant mothers, our experiences throughout infancy and early childhood, all interact with our genetic makeup and can impact our health throughout our lives.”
The study is open to all pregnant patients at Mount Sinai Hospital and it is expected that in the first year, over 1,200 women will be enrolled in the multi-year study. Patients will participate in regular questionnaires about their lifestyle and diet and provide biologic samples, such as blood tests during their routine prenatal medical appointments. Analysis of the data will begin following the first year of the study. The Ontario Birth Study hopes to expand to other hospitals across the province in a few years.
The Ontario Birth Study has partnered with TARget Kids!, a large network of child health researchers and practitioners in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), who will help track the health of children enrolled in the study.   Funding for the study is provided in part by Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation and the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary. 
“We’re focusing on the long-term prevention of common, complex illnesses,” says Dr. Alan Bocking, who is also a physician in Mount Sinai’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. “By fostering healthy early development, we have a better chance of preventing common adult diseases and promoting long-term health.” 

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