Professor Lillycrop is studying the genes of babies from mothers with and without gestational diabetes, to look for specific genetic changes that come about as a result of gestational diabetes.
She hopes to find out whether those genetic changes have an impact on the long-term health of the babies, and whether treatments to prevent the changes to genes from happening can be developed.
Background to research
Building evidence suggests that having gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, can increase the risk of the child developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes in later life. At the moment, the underlying biology behind this potential increased risk isn’t well understood, which means that treatments to prevent it from happening can’t be developed.
In this study, Professor Lillycrop’s team are taking advantage of the biggest study to take place in mothers with gestational diabetes to date, which was called UPBEAT.
This will be the first large-scale study to look for chemical changes to a new-born child’s entire genome. They hope to find specific genes that have been chemically altered (known as epigenetics) as a result of their mother having gestational diabetes.
To do so, they’re comparing the DNA of babies from mothers with gestational diabetes, to babies from mothers without gestational diabetes. This means the team can find genes that have been altered only in babies from mothers with gestational diabetes. The researchers can use DNA that was stored during the UPBEAT trial, taken from the umbilical cords of 644 babies involved in the study.
They hope to determine how chemical changes to specific genes influences the long-term health of the child (for example, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes). They also hope to find treatment or lifestyle strategies that can prevent those genetic changes from taking place in the first place during pregnancy.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
This study will improve our understanding of why gestational diabetes increases the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the offspring, and help us move towards developing treatments that prevent this from happening.