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Final Report Summary - EPIHEALTHNET (EpiHealthNet)

Main results achieved:
The EpiHealthNet network generated novel, publishable results on mechanisms and pathways in early development, with special emphasis on epigenetic changes and developmentally relevant metabolic signals that create biological variation and have a long term effect on the health of individuals. Some of the highlights include:
i) A better understanding of gene expression and metabolic changes during early embryonic development
ii) Identification of the main genetic and metabolic pathways affecting the health of developing embryos as a result of maternal metabolic disorders (diabetes or obesitas)
iii) Identification of the main genetic and metabolic pathways affecting the health of developing embryos as a result of ART interventions
iv) Interaction between oocyte and cumulus cells and regulation by miRNAs
v) interactions between embryo and the uterine environment, and the effects of nutritional status.
vi) Creation of a human (historical) ART database and analysis for effects of ART methods on birth weight and health outcomes.
vii) Role of KRAB zinc finger proteins in regulating genomic imprints and transcriptional activation in embryonic stem cells.
viii) Advanced data-mining methods applied to human ART data sets and identification of key pathways in early development.

Final results and their potential impact and use

Benefits to the individual researchers

The trainees have benefited from being part of EpiHealthNet by exposure to: 1) high quality multidisciplinary training in the “hot” topics of epigenetic programming, human ART and stem cells and NGS-based bioinformatics and modelling; 2) multi-methodological approaches; 3) multi-cultural framework; 4) frequent participation in events at which they could interact with prominent scientists; 5) industrial settings including meeting top biotech and pharma managers; 6) complementary training for added competitive value compared to scientists trained in a traditional research setting.

A lasting network based on long term benefits for the ITN partners
EpiHealthNet’s research and training collaborations are sustainable in the longer term as it was built on a core of proven partners that have collaborated for several years via FP6 & 7 projects. EpiHealthNet partners have made efforts beyond the end of this ITN to retain the trained ESR/ERs in their laboratories by offering post-doctoral opportunities so as to prevent any brain-drain towards main competitor third countries. Part of this strategy was the mutual recognition of the training modules by the partner institutions.

Lasting external connections: EpiHealthNet aims to have a lasting impact on the wider scientific community. Through the dissemination tools, conferences and via trainings made partially open to external investigators. Special attention was devoted to inviting groups (other ITNs and FP6/7 teams) with a complementary approach to epigenetic programming and animal models. Among the dissemination activities, the EpiHealthNet final Conference in Budapest was specifically aimed at connecting the partners to the world wide scientific community, to the public and to the industrial world. A special emphasis was given to communication and mutually beneficial collaborations with other MC ITN projects. In particular, during the final Conference and final Complementary training special attention was dedicated to facilitating interactions with the industrial sector through workshops on the theme “Linking Science to Business”.

European benefits

Reinforcing competitiveness: The EpiHealthNet network successfully performed integrated multidisciplinary research with a strong interaction between technology, biology and practical applications over 9 partners from 5 countries, thereby strengthening both vertical and horizontal integration within the ERA. By generating various animal and cellular model systems for further basic and applied research in the complex medical field of DOHAD, EpiHealthNet research had a significant impact on a broad spectrum of medical research domains in Europe, and enhanced European excellence and competitiveness in several key areas. The impact of the project is very broad. Basic knowledge on external factors affecting early embryonic development, cellular pluripotency and differentiation advanced our understanding of gene function and epigenetic changes and will, ultimately, help medical teams develop new preventive methods, modify existing protocols, and innovate intervention therapies, facilitated by European industrial partners. Furthermore, the EpiHealthNet consortium focused on using novel laboratory, large animal and cellular methods to establish more appropriate and efficient animal models for studying specific developmental disorders.

Answering societal problems: Overweight affects 30-80% of adults in the WHO European Region and up to one third of children. A dramatic increase in the incidence of metabolic syndrome related diseases and an ageing society, means that Europe will require increasing numbers of well-trained specialists familiar with ageing-related health matters. Future applications of the new preventive or corrective measures to reduce the adverse effects of early in utero events on adult health are expected to be the method of choice for modern medicine, helping the field progress towards a more effective and socially sensitive form of medicine that enhances lifespan and the quality of life of elderly people. Many of the results obtained in the EpiHealthNet network will be exploited in terms of improved patient care (e.g. better counseling/treatments for pregnant patients with metabolic disorders; advice on neonatal care), improving the life-long safety of ART interventions (e.g. ameliorate or counteract the impact of adverse in-vitro culture conditions), improving the modelling tools for the study of specific developmental disorders (such as cellular and large animal models).

Impact on Society: Creation of new high-tech employment opportunities. The EpiHealthNet network trained new scientists and potential future business developers and heads of R&D units who will play important roles in the future development of areas of the health care industry.

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