Staff

PhotoBiography
Cyrus Cooper
Director and Professor of Rheumatology

I graduated in medicine from the Universities of Cambridge and London, before completing my training in general medicine and rheumatology in Southampton. I initially joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1985, when I commenced my doctoral research on the epidemiology of osteoporosis. Thereafter, I continued collaborative research with colleagues in the Unit while I travelled to Bristol and the United States, before returning as a Consultant Rheumatologist and MRC Senior Scientist in 1992.

My principal research interests are the causes and prevention of chronic age-related musculoskeletal disorders, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and sarcopenia.

I took over direction of the Unit in 2003, following the retirement of Professor David Barker and am proud of the achievements of all our staff in continuing a strong and internationally prominent research tradition.
Elaine Dennison
Professor of Musculoskeletal Epidemiology & Honorary Consultant in Rheumatology

I trained at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge before moving to Southampton in 1992 to undertake a medical rotation at Southampton General Hospital. I did the research leading to my PhD in Hertfordshire, looking at relationships between how people grow early in life and their risk of osteoporosis in adulthood. I enjoyed the work so much that when it was suggested I might help with the next phase of the Hertfordshire Study, I was delighted to participate.

I have been working on the study since 1998; over that time I have also been appointed as a consultant in rheumatology and a Professor at Southampton University. My particular interest remains osteoporosis and other changes in the musculoskeletal system with age (osteoarthritis and changes in muscle) and the factors that make some people particularly vulnerable.
Catharine Gale
Professor of Cognitive Epidemiology

After graduating with a 1st class degree in Population Studies from the University of Southampton, I obtained an MRC studentship and completed a PhD on the role of antioxidant vitamins in cerebrovascular disease and cognitive decline. I now lead the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit’s work on cognitive function which involves many studies, HCS among them. I am particularly interested in the role that cognitive function and other psychological factors, such as mental wellbeing, play in determining how long people live and whether they become physically frail in later life.
Karen Walker-Bone
Professor of Occupational Rheumatology

Karen graduated from Southampton University Medical School in 1991. She trained in rheumatology in the Wessex region and became an accredited Consultant in 2002. In that same year, Karen was awarded a PhD for her work (conducted at the MRC unit in Southampton) on the epidemiology of neck and upper limb disorders among working-aged adults.

Between 2003-13, Karen worked at the Brighton & Sussex Medical School. Whilst there, she developed a specialist rheumatology clinic for HIV-infected patients to assess and manage the joint and bone manifestations of the chronic infection. Together with the HIV Consultants in Brighton, a cohort of 400 HIV-infected men was incepted into a longitudinal study of bone health.

In 2013, Karen returned to the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in Southampton. She is director of the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work and scientific lead of the Unit's ‘Work and health’ programme.
Kate Ward
Associate Professor

I am a biologist and graduated with a BSc(Hons) in Biomedical Technology from Sheffield in 1995. I have always been keen to work in understanding human health and disease from a physiological perspective and have been a researcher in bone for over twenty years, starting as an undergraduate placement student. In 1999 I was awarded my PhD in Human Biology from Leeds and then moved to Manchester, and down to Cambridge in 2008, before joining Southampton in 2016 as an Associate Professor.

My research interests are in muscles and bones, understanding how they work together to stay healthy, also how nutrition and activity play a role. My research spans the life course, from childhood and adolescent years through to ageing. I have worked with the Hertfordshire cohort since 2011 when members of the cohort came to Cambridge for bone and muscle measurements and am helping to manage the latest round of data collection using all the latest imaging techniques. We have learnt in great detail how bone shape, size and structure are influenced by early life environment and muscle health through life. I look forward to continuing this into the future.


Vanessa Cox
IT Manager

I have been involved with the Hertfordshire cohort study since 1991. I am responsible for the management and analysis of all the Hertfordshire data. This includes information from the Hertfordshire birth records, as well as all the information you have given us through questionnaires and clinics. The data is protected with sophisticated security systems and you can feel assured that only our staff and collaborating scientists will view the information.
Holly Syddall
Senior Research Fellow, PhD

I have been involved with the Hertfordshire studies since 1997. Throughout the years I have been involved with computerising all of the information that you have provided us with at your home interviews, clinic visits, scans and follow-ups. Once databases have been prepared I then work with my clinical colleagues to investigate the links between various lifecourse risk factors and a range of measures of health and disease in later life. I have worked on potential causes of disease that range from lower birth weight and weight at one year, to obesity, physical activity, diet and lifestyle. The health outcomes and diseases have ranged from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, falls, osteoporosis, hormones, grip strength, physical performance, hospital admission, and mortality – it is really interesting work and I have become a clinical jack of all trades over the years!

I am forever amazed that the HCS participants give their time so generously to our study and as a research team we are immensely grateful to them all.
Karen Jameson
Statistician

I studied statistics as a mature student at undergraduate and then master’s degree level, completing my studies in 2004. After working for the NHS as an analyst, I joined the Southampton MRC unit in 2006.

I am often occupied with the data management side of the Hertfordshire studies and do a lot of the checking and preparing of data that has been computerised. Once the data has been thoroughly checked and is ready to use, I help with analysing it. I’ve been involved with Hertfordshire research on arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, diet, frailty, quality of life, muscle strength,…., the list goes on!
Shirley Simmonds
Research Fellow

I’m a Hertfordshire baby too! I was born and grew up in Welwyn Garden City, and my first graduate job was with the planning department at County Hall in Hertford. I was finally lured away to join the MRC in Southampton in 1982, and I’ve been here ever since! By 1988 I was one of a team conducting a nationwide search for infant records that could be used to test the intuitive, but at that time unproven, idea that the conditions we experience before birth affect us throughout life, and may even determine our cause of death. I’d chased records in Plymouth, Preston and points between, so when I was asked to check out some ledgers in the basement store at County Hall in Hertford it felt like coming home! The records turned out to be the best in the country - the rest, as they say, is history.

Right from the start I’ve been responsible for tracing people in Hertfordshire and linking routinely collected data on deaths to the Hertfordshire Cohort Study database. More recently, this has extended to data on hospital admissions as well, and I have been awarded a PhD for a series of analyses showing how the range of things we measured in clinic contribute to risk of hospital admission over the coming decade.

Over the years, the study has evolved, and my role with it, but I’ve always found meeting cohort participants to be the greatest of pleasures. Thank you for your help, always.

Leo Westbury
Statistician

I started working as a statistician at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in October 2013 after completing an MSc in Statistics at the University of Warwick. 

My Hertfordshire research has involved using complex statistical techniques to investigate determinants of healthy ageing, especially those relating to sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and strength with age), frailty and hospital admission. More specifically, my role has involved: investigating risk factors for different types of hospital admission; examining risk factors for low level and accelerated decline of grip strength, muscle mass and walking speed; and exploring links between measured physical activity levels and muscle strength, physical function, body size, and other aspects of health.
Camille Parsons
Statistician

I obtained an MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine from the University of Southampton in October 2010, and joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in September 2012.

I use the Hertfordshire Cohort Study to complete a wide spectrum of research, publishing results that have varied from examining the relationship between poor physical performance and knee osteoarthritis, improving understanding of the developmental origins of osteoarthritis, and analysis performed to enable a better understanding of the agreement between different methods of diagnosing osteoarthritis. In the future I hope to continue using the Hertfordshire Cohort Study to further explore the natural disease progression of osteoarthritis.
Ilse Bloom
Research Nutritionist

I joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in December 2013, having completed a BSc in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Lisbon in Portugal and then an MSc in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Southampton. As a registered associate nutritionist, I am interested in how diet and lifestyle can affect healthy ageing. Previously, I worked with Age UK South Staffordshire on a community-based project focusing on preventing undernutrition in older adults. This made me want to find out more about what shapes the diets of people as they get older and what can be done to promote healthy diets as we get older.

I was very excited to join the HCS team in 2013 to work on a project aiming to improve the diets of older people living in the community. I have had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with some of you about influences on diet, lifestyle and ageing. This work has helped us to further understand the influences on diet in later life, highlighting the importance of underlying psychological and social factors for having a healthy diet. This work, along with other analyses of HCS data, has formed the basis of the PhD project that I am now undertaking. None of this would have been possible without your generous contributions – thank you!
Nick Fuggle
Academic Clinical Fellow

I graduated in medicine from Imperial College London where I also completed a BSc at the National Heart and Lung Institute. During my general medical training I worked in rheumatology at St George’s Hospital in London and developed a passion for musculoskeletal medicine.
After completing a research fellowship at St George’s, I moved to the South Coast and am currently training to become a rheumatologist and epidemiologist in Southampton.

My main research interests are around bone, joint and muscle health and disease and I am currently conducting a study in Hertfordshire which is investigating changes in the structure of bone over time.
Gregorio Bevilacqua
Senior Administrator

My profile is not quite like the kind you would expect to find on this website! I studied musicology in Italy, my homeland, at the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, where I received my MA in 2004, with a study on Spanish instrumental music of the Renaissance, and earned my PhD in 2009, presenting a thesis on thirteenth-century music theory. I also have a Classical Guitar Diploma from the Conservatoire of Music Giovanni Battista Martini in Bologna. From 2009 I held postdoctoral positions in France and the United Kingdom, where I continued my research on Medieval and Renaissance music.

I joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in September 2017 not as a minstrel, but as a Senior Administrator. At the MRC LEU I am mostly involved with the daily organisation of the Hertfordshire Cohort Study and the Hertfordshire 3G Study (you can imagine that when the questionnaires are returned there is a lot of post to be dealt with!). I am the main contact for these studies’ participants, some of whom I had the chance to meet at the Hertfordshire Cohort Study Open Day in Harpenden in June 2018. I have also been assisting with studies of bones, and work and health.
Michael Clynes
Clinical Lecturer

I completed a PhD in molecular pharmacology at the University of Cambridge prior to studying medicine at the University of Warwick. Following medical school, I was awarded a place on the Academic Foundation Programme in the Wessex deanery where I used data obtained from the Hertfordshire Cohort Study to explore the developmental origins of osteoporosis. More recently, I have started as a Clinical Lecturer at the MRC Lifecouse Epidemiology Unit whilst I continue my training to become a rheumatologist in Southampton.

My main research interest is the developmental origin of musculoskeletal diseases. The exposures that we have in the uterus and early life can influence the onset of diseases such as osteoporosis later in life. I am currently involved with an intergenerational study in Hertfordshire which aims to explore whether the effect of nutrition early in life can be passed down through future generations and impact upon the children’s and grandchildren’s musculoskeletal health.
Sarah Carter
Research Fellow

I earned BAs in Psychology and Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008, where I studied the relationships between human evolution, health, and the modern world. After graduating from UCLA, I went on to complete an MA in Forensic Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles, where I interned at the Department of Coroner, identifying unknown skeletal remains. My Master’s thesis investigated the efficacy of methods of infant fracture detection at autopsy.

In 2014, I moved to England, where I worked at the Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton before beginning a PhD in Social Statistics at the university, studying the socioeconomic indicators of childbirth intervention in the United Kingdom. I completed my PhD in 2018, and began work at the MRC shortly after graduation.

My research interests include maternal and infant health, early determinants of health, and the intergenerational transmission of birth weight and height. I am particularly interested in the effect of environmental contexts on health outcomes and how early life influences health throughout the lifecourse.