My research concerns the contribution of genetic factors to complex traits and the use of genetic data within frameworks of epidemiological analysis allowing causal inference. In 2005 I undertook one of the first formal applications of Mendelian randomisation(MR) which reassessed the role of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the aetiology of metabolic features important for cardiovascular disease. The paper was instrumental in the repositioning of CRP as a biomarker, redirecting industry focus and highlighting MR to clinical research.
I have since had a substantial role in a diverse collection of MR related publications and the establishment of this as a recognised approach. At the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics between 2006 and 2008, I worked on the first wave of genomewide association studies data through the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium. This work led to a series of seminal papers and the initiation of a collection of consortia which were important in shaping the nature of population based genetics in its contemporary form. One stand-out discovery was that of the association between variation at the now called “fat mass and obesity related locus” (FTO) and body mass index (BMI).
Since 2011 I have had major roles in genetic association studies for BMI, overweight and obesity, birthweight, lipid profile, adiponectin, bone health, cortisol, thyroid function, allergic sensitization, educational attainment, and pigmentation. Alongside this, assessment of the causal impact of BMI on important health outcomes, such as ischaemic heart disease has been a key focus including development of new analytical methods. I have used longitudinal resources and appropriate analyses to assess the differential contribution of BMI loci through the lifecourse and have been part of the multi-omic enrichment of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Most recently, this has seen the study equipped with whole genome sequence data through my work helping to lead the UK10K consortium.
I am currently the PI for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (www.bris.ac.uk/alspac). I also lead a programme within the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) focused on the development and application of Recall by Genotype (RbG) studies. These are currently being employed and developed into a nation-wide strategy across suitable participant collections including the NIHR Bioresource. In June 2016, I was successful in securing a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award which running for six years from September 2016. This work realises my continuing research focus on understanding body mass index (BMI) as a risk factor. With this I co-lead a work package applying RbG to questions pertinent to the aetiology of cancer risk and progression in the CRUK supported Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme (ICEP) and am part of the cardiovascular and translational work streams in the Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR).
I am jointly responsible for running the Wellcome Trust funded Molecular, Genetic and Lifecourse Epidemiology 4 year PhD programme which provides three funded PhD stipends a year and which has also formed a platform for the development of other PhD schemes including that within the IEU, the ICEP and the recently British Heart Foundation funded PhD programme in cardiovascular science.
Nic teaches a broad range of topics related to population health and genetics to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and use a variety of teaching methods for delivery and assessment. He has taught clinical epidemiology to first year medical undergraduates continuously over the last eight years and having stepped down from element and unit leadership for Community Orientated Medical Practice (COMP1), he continues to teach on this course for fourth year medical undergraduates. Most recently, Nic has moved into a new role as co-programme director of a new intercalated degree in Genomic Medicine (first academic year 2016-17). This sits alongside a role as working programme director of the Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD programme in Molecular Genetic and Lifecourse Epidemiology.
Nic has contributed to the genetics related postgraduate taught short courses at SSCM and have supervised PhD students over the same period. The short courses include lectures and practical work focussed on the principles of genetic epidemiology. Nic currently supervises three PhD students on either the Wellcome Trust or MRC IEU 4-year programmes, one clinical NIHR PhD student, two Wellcome Trust clinical PhD students, one joint Centre for Multi-Level Modelling/IEU PhD and one PhD student remotely (Cardiff University).
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