Saturday, March 07, 2015

Summary of the ESRC Workshop on Biomarkers and Social Science

Thanks to everybody who participated in our fifth ESRC Workshop on Biomarkers and Social Science. Below are some impressions of the workshop which was a huge success. 

Michael introduced the participants to our fifth ESRC Workshop (with new table arrangement).

Jovan Vojnovic (Behavioural Science Centre, University of Stirling)
Education and Health: The Role of Time Preferences

The aim of this paper is to examine the role time preferences play in the widely observed correlation between education and health. It is the first paper that uses several health biomarkers as measures of health in examining this type of correlation and it provides a contribution to the evolving literature that deals with direct measurement of heterogeneity in time preferences in economics. The data used for the empirical analysis of this paper originates from waves 4 and 5 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) dataset. The main finding, among a large sample of UK older people, is that both time preferences and education strongly predict health and smoking behavior, but that time preferences are not the explanation for the education effect. Additionally, a role for time preferences in explaining some of the health biomarkers has been less apparent, than in case of self-reported health, obesity and smoking behavior.
Dr. Gabriella Conti (Department of Applied Health Research, University College London)
Biomarkers and Human Development 
Dr. Cathal McCrory (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), Trinity College Dublin) 
Socio-Economic Variation in the Heart Rate Response to a Cardiovascular Stressor

It is well established that individuals from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and lower life expectancy than their more advantaged peers. Indeed, the pernicious effects of living in low SES environments can be seen in just about every major organ system of the body, including the heart.  The active stand (i.e. vertical stand from a supine position) in TILDA is a potent cardiovascular stressor that offers a fleeting but potentially informative two minute time horizon for observing how socio-economic status influences cardiovascular reactivity to stress in a controlled laboratory environment.  Social scientists are interested in modelling socio-economic variation in these biomarkers because they believe that low SES mimics the effects of biological ageing and can help illuminate the pathways through which life course stresses, both material and psychosocial, can accelerate the ageing process. This talk will explore the epidemiology of the heart rate response to stress across different indicators of SES in a nationally representative sample of community dwelling older persons. 

Professor Meena Kumari (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Essex)

Understanding the biological pathways that connect social position with health.

Social position is traditionally measured in terms of indicators such as social class, income and occupation. By these criteria, an extensive and extraordinarily consistent body of evidence has accumulated documenting the negative health outcomes associated with greater disadvantage. A number of pathways are proposed by which social position and health are connected throughout the life-course.  Increased risks for poor health outcomes associated with disadvantage are hypothesized to result from the relatively greater exposure to environmental stress.  

As differential exposure to both chronic and acute stressors constitutes one of the foremost factors postulated to contribute to observed health differentials by social position, this presentation will focus on biomarkers associated with the stress response. In particular, markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and a measure of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, salivary cortisol will be described. Analyses will be presented from a number of British longitudinal studies including the Whitehall II study, the 1958 British Birth cohort, the English Longitudinal study of Ageing and Understanding Society. Data will be presented which describes a) how these biomarkers are associated with socially patterning throughout the life-course, b) the association of these biomarkers with clinical health outcomes and c) whether these biomarkers of stress play a role in socially patterned differences in health. 

Dr. Anna Phillips (School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences , University of Birmingham) 
How to get Biomarkers into Psychological Stress Research 

Psychologists and social scientists studying stress through a range of methods often seek to expand their data by adding in objective biomarkers of underlying chronic stress levels or the acute response to stress.  This talk will cover in brief some of the main markers used in behavioural medicine research to attempt to biologically quantify psychological stress.  We will discuss the measurement of stress hormones, like cortisol, immune system measures as biomarkers of the impact of stress on health, and then finally consider cardiovascular system measures in response to acute stress, and how these can be used to understand biological individual differences related to chronic stress, and other psychosocial and behavioural factors.

Professor Alissa Goodman (Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education)
Biomarkers in the National Child Development Cohort Study 
In this short presentation I will give an overview of the existing and upcoming biomedical data in the CLS birth cohort studies, and some of the uses made of it so far in economics, psychology and other social science disciplines.


Professor Ian Deary (Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh) 
Environmental and genetic contributions to intelligence, education and social status

This presentation will give an overview of what is know about the environmental and genetic contributions to people's differences in cognitive abilities, educational achievements, and social status. It will draw from family- and twin-based studies, and from molecular genetic studies (candidates gene studies and GWAS) that include single cohort studies and GWAS consortia. It will examine both the heritability of the measures and their environmental and genetic correlations. It will consider what has been discovered about mechanisms of people's differences in these measures.

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