In one facet of our research program, we study human population epigenetics with the aim of deciphering the mechanisms by which environmental exposures and early-life experiences can get “under the skin” to regulate gene activity and contribute to health and disease across the life course. This research aligns with the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis, which postulates that the developmental period and early life are particularly sensitive periods during which temporary social or environmental triggers can influence physical and mental health for many years afterwards. Our findings support the model that early-life social and environmental factors, including stress and socioeconomic status, leave a biological footprint. We measure this biological embedding of early life exposures through epigenetic patterns and accompanying gene expression changes, many of which are maintained until adulthood and may influence future health. We have extensive interdisciplinary collaborations within the University of British Columbia (where Dr. Kobor leads the Social Exposome Research Cluster), across Canada, and around the world.

Studying how epigenetic changes correlate with different aspects of the environment, and understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these changes occur, can enhance our understanding of diverse childhood and lifelong health conditions. How do these conditions develop? How do genetic susceptibilities interact with the environment to influence an individual’s development? Why are some individuals more susceptible to environmental changes, while others are more resilient? In the longer term, this research can potentially also lead to new ways to diagnose complex conditions at an earlier stage, when treatments and interventions are generally more effective. 

Please see our Publications for information on our work with human cohorts, which encompasses research on neurocognitive development, asthma and allergy, aging (including the development of a pediatric “epigenetic clock”), and additional aspects of healthy and disordered development. We are also actively engaged in developing new tools and methods to help advance the field of social epigenetics.