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Improving testing for gestational diabetes

Project summary

Gestational diabetes is linked to a higher risk of complications during birth, as well as a higher risk of type 2 diabetes for both the mother and baby later on in life. Professor Thornton hopes to develop a quicker, cheaper and more informative test for diagnosing gestational diabetes. In the future, this could reduce the time and cost of diagnosis, as well as help to personalise future treatments for women with gestational diabetes.

Background to research

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only develops during pregnancy. Testing is offered to many pregnant women, but current tests require women to fast overnight and attend the hospital for a few hours the following morning. The time and effort required from both pregnant women and hospital staff makes the test very expensive.

Raman spectroscopy is a technique that works by shining laser light onto a person’s blood sample and measuring how much light scatters off the chemicals and molecules within the sample. This provides a unique ‘fingerprint’ of information for each individual tested.

Previously, Professor Thornton has shown that Raman spectroscopy of blood samples can identify people with or without bowel cancer.

Now, she wants to use this expertise to develop a better test for gestational diabetes.

Research aims

To begin with, Professor Thornton’s PhD student will compare the results of the current testing method to the new method. This way, they can check that the new technique can reliably identify women with gestational diabetes. They will also compare the cost-effectiveness of both tests.

The research team will ask pregnant women and hospital staff about their views on each test, to find out if a new test would be welcome.

Finally, the ‘fingerprint’ obtained from Raman spectroscopy provides a measure of the many molecules inside the body that change when someone has gestational diabetes. The team will study these molecules to help them understand why gestational diabetes only occurs in some women.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research could lead to a new gestational diabetes test for pregnant women that wouldn’t require overnight fasting or a hospital visit.

In the future, the extra information gained from the test could inform individual treatment decisions and determine a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. This would give the greatest chance of minimising the longer health term impact of gestational diabetes.

This project has been fully funded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
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