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Baby on board: how do high blood sugar levels affect the placenta?

Project summary

Women with diabetes are more likely to have larger babies, which increases the risk of complications for both mother and baby during birth, as well as health problems for the child later in life. Professor Melissa Westwood wants to examine how high blood sugar levels at the very beginning of pregnancy have an impact on the growth of the baby, and any long-term health effects. In the future, this could lead to new treatments to protect mothers with diabetes and their babies.

Background to research

At the beginning of pregnancy, the embryo embeds into the wall of the womb. The womb then sends instructions to the embryo that affect the development of the placenta, which is responsible for transferring nutrients to the baby. In women with diabetes, the instructions for the placenta are different, and as a result, the placenta transfers too many nutrients to the developing foetus. This results in larger babies, who are more likely to have health problems in both childhood and adulthood.

Research aims

Professor Westwood wants to find out if the blood sugar level of the mother at the beginning of pregnancy sets the course for the baby’s health throughout life. She will see how high blood sugar levels in mice during the early stages of pregnancy affect how the placenta develops and transfers nutrients, and how it affects the weight of the newborn mice. After the pregnancy, the researchers will then track the long-term health of the offspring, looking at their blood sugar control, insulin levels and body weight.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Having a larger baby increases the risk of complications for both mother and baby during birth, as well as health problems for the child later in life. This study will help fill the gap in our knowledge about how high blood sugar affects the way the placenta works during pregnancy. In the future, this will help us design treatments and interventions to support women with diabetes who are pregnant.

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