New research aims to understand more about gestational diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on June 28, 2016

With the number of women developing diabetes during pregnancy increasing, new research aims to find out more about its effect on mothers and their babies.

Gestational diabetes rates are considered to be climbing due to more women being obese and their babies tend to be much bigger and more prone to problems at birth so now a five-year million dollar grant will be used to find out more.

Gestinational DiabetesThe research is also needed as women who develop diabetes during their pregnancy have a high risk of passing it on to their unborn child. The intensity of glucose and fatty substance through food intake of the mother may develop diabetes and obesity in children in the future.

‘Babies born to those women tend to be much bigger and are more prone to worse outcomes at birth. But what we know little about is the long term impact for these babies,’ said researcher Dr Jennifer Thompson, a postdoctoral fellow kin the Vascular Biology Centre at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

She pointed out that there are only a handful of studies and these point to problems later on with obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but there’s no strong evidence regarding the matter due to insufficient research.

‘I think that the mother’s health during pregnancy or her lifestyle during pregnancy or the fact that she had gestational diabetes during pregnancy may be a big influence. We can change the mother’s health during pregnancy. It is something that we can modulate and we can target as a preventative measure,’ she explained.

The research also aims to find a market that might give doctors and healthcare workers and early indication that a woman could develop diabetes, thus creating the chance to intervene and even prevent the condition.

The research will look more at environmental exposures rather than genetics such as the mother’s poor nutrition or smoking and high glucose levels that may have a lasting impact on the baby.

The team will be using a mouse model developed by Thompson that should better identify the mechanisms through which the mother’s metabolic dysfunction during pregnancy programmes similar, and apparently lasting, effects on her baby.

‘Gestational diabetes and a big baby go hand in hand. They have been programmed to develop higher adiposity,’ said Thompson, adding that logically she suspects extra exposure of glucose and fat from the mother’s gestational diabetes is the initiator.

‘We know that exposing adult animals to excess glucose, for even a short period of time, can induce epigenetic changes that can alter organ function. Just like in humans, this model seems to programme a sort of metabolic syndrome phenotype so we want to find out why,’ Thompson explained.

As part of the research she will be trying to find out if, after birth, additional risk factors such as a high fat diet, exacerbate disease risk and further down the road, Thompson wants to determine if the altered womb environment produces so-called epigenetic changes that alter protein expression and gene function. Markers of those changes might one day serve as early biomarkers that children are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Although genetics may be a factor, obese women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes when they get pregnant, according to Thompson. Additionally, essentially every woman will become slightly insulin resistant during pregnancy. ‘They are already vulnerable and pregnancy is that extra stress that pushes them over,’ Thompson said, adding that gestational diabetes also increases the mother’s later risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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