Development and origin of disease

Tracking the development of disease from mother to child

We’re conducting a study of pregnant women in Western Sydney to determine whether disease begins developing in the womb through fetal immune programming.

A strong body of empirical data supports the theory that disease begins developing in utero. Diabetes, allergies and cardiovascular diseases are the result of aberrant immune responses in children, suggesting that fetal immune programming is a central mechanism in the developmental origin of disease.

In our longitudinal study we are observing mothers from preconception or early in pregnancy, and following them longitudinally through to delivery and their offspring’s childhood. The cohort comprises mothers within Western Sydney, where perinatal care through the public system is preferred.

By studying mothers and their children, we are exploring the maternal factors that affect the fetal immune system such as obesity, diabetes, and pre-eclampsia, and correlate it with environmental determinants to determine the biological processes involved with abnormal in utero fetal immune programming.

We are studying the genetic and environmental factors that program the development of disease, with the goal of discovering where disease originates.

We are working to solve the diabetes epidemic.


  • Hosted and co-organised the 5th Annual Meeting in Sydney of the ANZ DoHAD Society in 2018
  • Hosted satellite meeting in Sydney for DoHAD World Congress in 2019


  • Assisted in obtaining NHMRC research grants of over $4M including the OPIA (Oral peanut immunotherapy with a modified dietary starch adjuvant for treatment of peanut allergy) and PrEggNut (Maternal diet rich in eggs and peanuts to reduce food allergies: a randomised controlled trial) studies.


  • Hu M, Eviston D, Hsu P, Vuillermin P, Nanan R.(2019) Decreased maternal serum acetate and impaired fetal thymic and regulatory T cell development in preeclampsia. Nature Communications [more]. This publication was amongst the most highly covered media stories of USYD in 2019. 

Internal collaborators

External collaborators

  • Associate Professor Jeff Craig, Melbourne Children's Research Institute
  • Associate Professor Cathy Suter, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute
  • Professor Caroline McMillen, University of Newcastle
  • Professor Sue Clarke, Garvan Institute
  • Professor Margaret Morris, UNSW
  • Dr Peter Molloy, CSIRO

Project Node Leader

Professor Ralph Nanan
Professor Ralph Nanan
Visit Ralph Nanan's profile