Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) Through the Lifespan Workshop Report

Workshop Executive Summary

The Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health (IHDCYH) hosted a pan-Canadian workshop which was supported by all 13 of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) in Toronto on September 19 and 20, 2013.

More than 70 thought-leaders in the field attended the day-and-a-half-long event, including researchers, professors, clinicians, and administrators from universities and teaching hospitals across the country, patients and representatives from all of the CIHR Institutes.

The workshop agenda included expert presentations by speakers from as far away as China and the United Kingdom, small-group brainstorming sessions, and plenary discussions—all aimed at engaging participants in achieving the following key objectives:

  1. To identify the preliminary research priorities of a potential IHDCYH strategic funding opportunity related to DOHaD.
  2. To review Canadian strengths, challenges, and opportunities in the field of DOHaD.
  3. To identify potential national and international partnerships.
  4. To explore the creation of a national registry for cohort linkage and interoperability and the feasibility of establishing an intergenerational cohort.

Participants broke into small groups to address issues and possible opportunities in Canada related to four key DOHaD-related themes: methodologies and platforms; scientific areas/fields; influencing public policy and knowledge translation; and innovation and training.

Many thoughtful suggestions came out of the discussions; including that Canada’s DOHaD community should focus on building on its strengths in population-based human-development research, international collaborations, and interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. The need for the community to work together to optimize investments and opportunities—through cohort and data harmonization; improved access to and pooling of information; better linkages with other platforms, resources, and infrastructures; and the possible creation of a national society—was a common theme. Sustained funding, knowledge translation, a focus on intervention and prevention, and the need to engage politicians and others through “success stories” were also identified as paramount to success in achieving the initiative’s key goal: to improve outcomes for patients and populations.

On the second day of the workshop, participants were asked to offer their advice on what a potential funding opportunity might look like, including key content areas, criteria for research evaluation, important areas of engagement for interdisciplinary groups, ways to optimize partnerships with CIHR initiatives—such as the Signature Initiatives and Strategies for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) —and how to engage the public and private sectors in moving the DOHaD agenda forward.

Once again breaking into small groups, participants offered a wide range of ideas and input, including the need to: improve understanding of the interaction between genes and exposure to both early and long-term environments of all kinds (e.g., socio-economic, biological, physical); ensure consideration of sex and gender differences in the development of interventions; focus on vulnerable populations; and, ensure long-term, sustainable plans for research initiatives that incorporates funding, training and bi-directional engagement with key stakeholders such as public health authorities, decision makers, patients, and citizens.

Finally, to inform discussions scheduled to take place at an international funders’ meeting being held in conjunction with the Eighth World Congress on DOHaD in Singapore (November 17-20, 2013), participants were asked to provide guidance on possible mechanisms, structures, and other methods to improve collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and leverage resources for researchers working in the field, around the world.

Some of the many suggestions made included the importance of increasing the flexibility of international funding opportunities by introducing more creative mechanisms (e.g., joint reviews), exploring different consortium models, developing a methodology for exploiting international cohorts (e.g., introducing mandatory registry), conducting secondary analyses, diversifying global training opportunities, and considering the creation of a national society, potentially as an affiliate of the International Society for DOHaD.

A working group will be convened to flesh out the concepts discussed at the workshop, so they can be brought forward at the funders’ meeting in November. Over the coming months, IHDCYH will work with its partners, including the other CIHR Institutes, to determine the details of a Canadian funding initiative on DOHaD. If you wish to receive a copy of the full report, please email

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