Cause and effect people

Jianrong He: Exploring the causes of childhood leukaemia through large-scale cohort data

Meet Jianrong He, DPhil student


How long have you been working at The George Institute?

I have been based at The George Institute, UK since October 2017.


What is your professional background?

I am an Early Career Epidemiologist with a BSc in Preventive Medicine and an MSc in Epidemiology and Medical Statistics from Sun Yat-sen University, China. Prior to beginning my DPhil at Oxford, I was a team member of the Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study, China. I am also a qualified public health doctor in China, specialising in maternal and child health.


What led you to focus on this area of research?

I am interested in life-course epidemiology. To date, medical research the world over has tended to focus on diseases and risk factors in adulthood. However, evidence has shown that many adult diseases may originate before birth or in the few years following. I therefore subscribe to the tenet that identifying early-life factors for long-term health outcomes can provide new insights and approaches for the prevention of disease. 


To explain to people what I do, I say….

I work on large-scale cohort data to find out what factors in early life affect long-term health outcomes. 


What are you currently working on?

My DPhil project focuses on investigating the associations between maternal infection during pregnancy and the risk of childhood leukaemia in the offspring. Previous case-control studies and small cohort studies have suggested there is an association, and my project uses large-scale cohort data from the International Child Cancer Cohort Consortium (I4C)  to investigate this. I also remain part of the Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study team, for which I am investigating the effects of prenatal factors on perinatal and childhood cardiometabolic outcomes.


What is a recent highlight?  

In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of existent research, we found that infection with influenza, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) during pregnancy was associated with increased risk of childhood leukaemia. This may have been owing to genetic or immunological abnormalities caused by these infective agents. However, many of these existent studies have a case-control design and may be affected by recall and selection bias, so we are re-evaluating the associations using cohort data to provide more reliable evidence and conclusions.


What difference will this make to healthcare and why?

Globally, nearly 50,000-60,000 children develop leukaemia each year. However, the causes of childhood leukaemia remain poorly understood. If our reported findings on the links between maternal infection during pregnancy and childhood leukaemia are confirmed, this line of research may represent an opportunity to prevent some of this disease burden.


My biggest achievement so far…

I worked alongside colleagues to set up the Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS), which has recruited 43,000 pregnant women and their offspring. I used to oversee the daily operation of recruitment and follow-up, and later became involved in data analysis. BIGCS has become a major research platform and supports many investigative projects in China, of which I am proud to have been a part.


To unwind at the end of the day I…

Read stories and watch animations with my six-year old daughter, Siyu.


Why do you enjoy working at The George Institute?

It has truly international teams working on diverse subjects.