Studying development to understand human disease

Events prior to birth can have a profound influence on the health of a child. In this theme, our focus is on understanding the earliest stages of development and how they impact child health, and beyond.  This approach is necessarily intergenerational – as each child can trace their origin back to a single egg and sperm cell, derived from each of their parents. The sperm and egg contain the genetic and epigenetic information necessary to build a new individual – but this is only realised through the process of development. The early embryo must implant and establish the placenta to support onward embryonic development, therefore maternal health and placental function are also important determinants of child health. Finally, fetal growth and tissue maturation influence not only the ideal delivery time and any subsequent neonatal treatment, but also have a long-lasting influence on health. 

Our theme spans the full breadth of research focus; from fundamental, discovery science through to translational research in specialties such as obstetrics, fetal-maternal medicine, perinatology and clinical genetics. We draw on the unique, pre-existing expertise in world-leading centres such as the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology and the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences and combine this with researchers and clinicians with relevant interests from across the College, as well as colleagues at the North West Thames Regional Genetics service.

Existing interests include the very earliest events during development such as germline development and gamete biology, pre-implantation development and pluripotent stem cell biology, post-implantation development of the embryo and the placenta, establishment of the body plan and tissue-specific development. In addition, theme members are involved in international multicentre trials in fetal growth restriction, in identifying and treating twin-to-twin transfusion, and in developing novel non-invasive methods of monitoring fetal and neonatal physiology. Translational interests also include the application of genomic analyses and disease modelling approaches to aid clinical diagnosis, develop new genetic tests and guide therapeutic approaches.

Our vision is to foster new multi-disciplinary, cross-site interactions focussed on understanding human development and how this impacts child health and disease.

Key research areas/interests

Key research areas

  • Stem Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics
  • Epigenetics 
  • Fetal development
  • Fetal-maternal medicine
  • Perinatology
  • Clinical Genetics

Theme leads

Dr Harry Leitch
Clinical Lecturer

Harry Leitch is an Academic Clinical Lecturer in Clinical Genetics in the Institute for Clinical Sciences, and leads the Germline & Pluripotency group at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences.

Further information on Dr Leitch

Dr Jay Banerjee
Neonatal consultant and Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Jay Banerjee is a Neonatal consultant at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and a Hon Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, ICL. He leads neonatal haemodynamics research, has got significant interest in family integrated care research in neonatology and is part of the perinatology research group at the IRDB.

Further information on Dr Banerjee

Theme members