Date: Monday 8th January
Room: Building 9 BG09B
Dr Gillian Pepper (Newcastle University)
Sampling the effects of the exposome on telomeres: A meta-analysis
The exposome is the sum of all environmental exposures, including lifestyle factors, experienced by an individual throughout the life course. It has been argued that, to have a complete understanding of the role of gene-environment interactions in the aetiology of disease, we must complement genomic analyses with more-accurate measures of the exposome. Telomeres are DNA protein complexes that form protective caps on the ends of chromosomes and are thought to preserve chromosomal stability. Telomeres shorten with each cell division and their shortening is associated with cellular senescence, meaning measures of telomere length and attrition have been widely adopted as biomarkers of ageing. Telomeres also shorten more rapidly with exposure to stressors, making them a promising biomarker for investigating the effects of stress on ageing. It has been suggested that telomeres might serve as an integrative biomarker of stress, offering a single-measure indicator of exposure to a variety of stressors. That is, telomeres may provide a single-biomarker index of the exposome. Our systematic review and meta-analysis has synthesised evidence on the associations between telomeric measures and a variety of exposures, from environmental hazards to smoking and psychosocial stress. I will present our findings based on 553 associations, with a combined sample size of 407,620. I will discuss the implications of our findings for public health, and for the utility of telomeres as an index of the exposome.
After studying as an undergraduate at the University of Liverpool, I won an Interdisciplinary Bridging Award in order to continue my undergraduate research on morning sickness. I then went on to gain experience in science policy and communication. I undertook work experience with the BBC Specialist Factual Unit (TV), and with BBC Focus Magazine. I worked for Newton’s Apple as a Policy and Project Manager and later as their Director. I spent 2 years working as a Communications Manager at the Department of Health, while I completed my MSc in Evolutionary Psychology at Brunel University. I was awarded my PhD in behavioural sciences from the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University in 2015. I went on to work as a visiting postdoctoral scholar with the Newcastle City Council Public Health Team, then joined the Newcastle Institute of Health and Society, where I spent 2015 working as a postdoc in the Health Psychology group with Vera Araujo-Soares.
My main research interests are around socioeconomic differences in experiences, attitudes and behaviours, and their relationship to inequalities in health and ageing. I use observational and experimental data to examine differences in health behaviours, reproductive scheduling, social trust and, more recently, biomarkers of ageing.