Professor David Leon
BA (Hons) PhD
My undergraduate degree from Cambridge was in Philosophy and Social and Political Science. In 1991 I obtained a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of London undertaking a cohort study of cancer mortality in printing workers. This was done while working on occupational bladder cancer for the London University Institute of Urology. I subsequently worked on one of the first Census linkage studies in the UK where I researched socio-economic differences in cancer incidence in the ONS Longitudinal Study at City University.
I came to LSHTM in 1985 as a Lecturer in Epidemiology, and in 2000 was made Professor of Epidemiology. In the 1990s I set up and led a series of widely cited studies on the fetal origins of adult disease in Sweden, in recognition of which I was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Uppsala. At the same time I became interested in health in the former communist countries of Europe. From the mid-1990s I started working on mortality and health in Russia, which is now the primary focus of my research, involving detailed comparisons of health with Norway.
The link between alcohol and health has been a particular theme of my research interests in Russia and elsewhere. This has included comparative studies of liver cirrhosis trends across Europe which brought into focus a major increase in Scotland and the rest of the UK in the 2000s. This work was influential in getting the Scottish government to develop a comprehensive alcohol strategy. Today I advise on the evaluation of their innovative policy of minimum alcohol unit pricing.
I have sat on and chaired numerous advisory and funding panels in the UK and elsewhere, and have been particularly involved with the work of UK Medical Research Council. I am currently a member of the Arthritis Research UK Disease subcommittee. In 2013 I was appointed as an adjunct Professor in the Department of Community Medicine at UiT the Arctic University University Norway in Tromsø.
I currently teach on a range of MSc courses at LSHTM including the introductory course on epidemiology. In 2017 I co-organised a new Term 1 module on Epidemiology and -Omics which provides for the first time a broad introduction to public health and epidemiological applications of the rapidly developing field of -omics in biomedical science.
Today my research is focussed on trying to understand why cardiovascular mortality in Russia is so high and what can be done about it. My interest in this came out of a series of studies I worked on from the mid-1990s on what has been called "the Russian mortality crisis". Following the collapse of the Soviet Union male life expectancy fell to 57 years in 1994. Between 2002 and 2010, together with colleagues at LSHTM and in Russia, I led a Wellcome Trust funded case-control study on alcohol and mortality. This established for the first time a key role for hazardous drinking as a major explanation for high working age male mortality there.
High cardiovascular mortality is one of the main reasons why despite recent improvements life expectancy at birth in Russia (65 years for men and 76 for women in 2014) it remains substantially below that of other European countries. This led me with collaborators to set up the International Project on Cardiovascular Disease in Russia (IPCDR) involving over 50 scientists from Russia, the UK, Germany and Norway. This 5-year project runs from 2014 to 2019 and is funded by the Wellcome Trust and various sources in Norway. It involves studies of the validity of certification of cause of death in Russia and Norway, synthesis of existing evidence about levels of cardiovascular risk factors in Russia, recruitment of over 1000 people who have had a myocardial infarction in 13 Russian regions to study their treatment and recruitment. The main part of the study has involved the recruitment of a population sample of 4500 working age men and women from two Russian cities. A very detailed medical examination of these working age adults has been conducted and information on social and economic circumstances and medical history have been collected. The cardiovascular profile of these participants will be compared with that of participants of the Norwegian Tromsø 7 study that was completed in 2016. These comparisons will be conducted within the framework of the Heart to Heart collaboration established with UiT The Arctic University of Norway.