In Memorium, David J.P. Barker, M.D., Ph.D., FRS

June 29, 1938 - August 27, 2013

It is with great sadness that we share the sudden passing of Dr. David J.P. Barker.  Dr. Barker had just finished his tenth year as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Medicine at OHSU and as a member of the Heart Research Center. He and his wife, Jan, shared their time between Portland and southern England, where Dr. Barker was a Professor of Medicine at the University of Southampton.

Dr. Barker became famous for his discovery that chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity are caused more from poor nutrition in early life than from a "bad" gene code that people inherit from their parents.

His discovery came from a careful examination of birth and death records of the same people in England. He found that people born on the low end of the birthweight scale died more often of heart disease than people at the high end. He theorized that people who were smaller were more prone to get the disease because of slow growth before birth. The Barker theory changed the world’s view of chronic disease. The world now thinks differently about the origins of disease and about the care of girls and young women who will bear the children of the next generation.

Dr. Barker received many accolades including notable awards. He was cited by royalty in the U.K. and Thailand. He was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998. He received the Prince Mahidol Prize in 2000, the Danone International Prize for Nutrition in 2005, and the Richard Doll Prize in Epidemiology in 2011.

In 2003, Dr. Barker retired as director of the Medical Research Council’s Epidemiology Unit and moved to Oregon to join forces with scientists in the OHSU Heart Research Center and the Division of Cardiology to understand the biological mechanisms whereby low nutrition in early life can lead to high risk for disease in later life.

During the decade of his presence in Oregon, the HRC "developmental origins" program grew in size and national stature. Dr. Barker obtained funding from the National Institute of Aging to investigate how early life growth influences the aging process and longevity. He also participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development program studying how the placenta influences the development of the heart.

David Barker was proud to be an Oregonian and he will be more remembered by his Oregon friends for his quick wit, his English sense of humor and his love for Oregon wine than for being an international superstar. His powerful influence on OHSU will remain for decades to come.