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Getting to the heart of diabetes in pregnancy

Project summary

Pregnant women with diabetes have a higher chance of their babies being born with heart problems. Dr Chivers is researching the factors that can cause this and also better ways of working out which babies are at greatest risk. In the future, this could help give better care to pregnant women with diabetes and their babies. 

Background to research

Having higher blood sugar levels during pregnancy can affect the way the baby’s heart is formed and can lead to problems with the heart’s rhythm. These problems with the baby’s heart may be the reason why women with diabetes are more likely to experience still birth. But there may be other factors alongside blood sugar levels which we don’t know about that could also be important. 

At the moment, ultrasound scans are used to check for heart problems in babies growing in the womb. These scans can see what the heart looks like and if it’s pumping as it should. But not all heart problems can be picked up in this way. 

Research aims

Dr Chivers will study whether better tests could be used to work out which babies may develop heart problems in pregnant mums with diabetes. First, she aims to find factors in the mums’ blood samples that could be linked to heart problems in the baby. 

To do this, Dr Chivers will measure blood glucose, blood fat and other factors in 120 pregnant women with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. She’ll then compare these with blood measures from 60 pregnant women who don’t have diabetes. 

She’ll also test whether heart rhythm in the developing baby can be used to predict which babies will develop heart problems. She’ll use a new technology to visualise the baby’s heart and to monitor how it pumps and its rhythm over a 12-hour period.  

The results will be analysed using algorithms to develop a ‘risk calculator’ that doctors could use to better spot babies with abnormal rhythms and abnormal heart function, and tailor care accordingly.  

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Up to 1 in 6 pregnant mums are affected by diabetes so it’s important to know how best to care for women and their developing babies. Dr Chivers’ research will improve doctors’ understanding of which babies could be more at risk of developing heart problems during pregnancy and the factors that influence this.   

In the future, this could lead to better ways of working out which babies need extra care and monitoring. These changes in pregnancy care could potentially help to reduce the risk of stillbirth in women with diabetes. 

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