Obesity, type 2 diabetes and related metabolic disorders present a major and growing global public health challenge. These disorders result from a complex interplay between genetic, developmental, behavioural and environmental factors that operate throughout life.
The mission of the MRC Epidemiology Unit is to investigate the interplay between these factors and to use that evidence to develop and evaluate strategies for the prevention of these diseases and their consequences.
We are a Medical Research Council Unit embedded as a department of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine.
The Unit is a member of two research Institutes, reflecting our broad contributions to basic science, clinical medicine and public health.
The Unit is part of the Wellcome – MRC Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS) on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, where the principal offices and laboratories of the Unit are physically located. Unit Director Professor Nick Wareham is Co-Director of the IMS with Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly. Being embedded in the IMS is critical to our aspiration to examine associations between potential exposures and metabolic disease outcome, and to follow up these observations to determine possible causality and mechanisms.
The Unit is also a part of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health (CIPH). CIPH acts as a route to a range of other multidisciplinary collaborations that aid the translation of epidemiological observations into public health action. CIPH also plays an important role in our teaching and training programmes as the Masters in Epidemiology and Public Health courses are run jointly by the members of CIPH.
The Unit is structured in a way that enables us not only to investigate the causes of obesity and diabetes, but also take an active role in translating these findings into preventive action.
Our research is delivered by a number of scientific programmes that work collaboratively across a series of studies. This enterprise is supported by a comprehensive system of research support.
The Unit has seven Medical Research Council funded programmes of research, ranging from the aetiology and mechanisms of diabetes and related metabolic disorders, through nutritional and physical activity epidemiology, to prevention-focused programmes in young people and adult populations.
We also have a number of departmental programmes supported by other Funders in areas including public health modelling, global public health, measurement of diet, nutrition and physical activity, and mechanisms of metabolic disease.
The Unit leads the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR). Established as one of five UKCRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence, CEDAR has allowed us to build research capacity, develop and evaluate public health interventions and natural experimental studies, and help shape public health practice and policy. Using research from both MRC-funded and departmental programmes, CEDAR continues as a vehicle to communicate our translational public health work.
Our global public health research includes our leadership of the NIHR Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR), an international research partnership to help combat poor diet and physical inactivity in order to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. The partners in the GDAR network include Universities in South Africa, Cameroon, Kenya and the West Indies.
Our research programmes focusing on the measurement of diet, nutrition and physical activity form part of our leadership of the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) theme in Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle. The Cambridge BRC links scientific research in world-class institutes with advances in patient care.
The Unit’s programmes are supported by a core set of prospective cohort studies, detailed quantitative trait metabolic studies, case-control studies and trials that serve both aetiological and preventive purposes. Collaborations between studies and programmes allow data from individual studies to be analysed by many programmes to identify trends and links in different areas of interest. Read more about our studies.
Underpinning all our scientific programmes and studies are specialist Research Operations teams. These include data management, information technology, laboratory analysis, statistics and data science, physical activity and anthropometric measurement, study coordination, field epidemiology, and communications. Read more about Research Operations.
Cambridge Epidemiology and Trial Unit (CETU)
The Unit also leads the Cambridge Epidemiology and Trial Unit (CETU), an NIHR accredited clinical trials unit. CETU focuses on investigator-led randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and other well designed studies that evaluate interventions to improve healthcare and public health. We have expertise in evaluating interventions ranging from individual- and group-level behavioural interventions, through to policy interventions. Read more about the CETU
Working together, these programmes, studies and support structures allow us to improve our understanding of the causes of diabetes and obesity, investigate how we might better prevent them, and improve the health of people in the UK and around the world.