Researchers have found direct association between placental function in pregnant women and future metabolic disorders in children and adult. These findings can lead to early diagnosis and intervention of diseases.
The research conducted at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is published in the journal Diabetes.
Senior author of the study Thomas Jansson, MD, PhD, professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine said, "We've known for some time that many major diseases in adults like diabetes and cardiovascular disease are at least partly caused by problems during fetal life. For example, it has been shown that 50% of all type-2 diabetes in young adults are caused by exposure to the intrauterine environment in pregnant women with obesity and/or gestational diabetes."
Jansson said that they were the first to discover the association between placental function and blood pressure, triglyceride and body fat levels in children between the ages of 4-6 years old. These markers can indicate the risks for future heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
The researchers used the Healthy Start longitudinal pre-birth study in which 1,410 healthy pregnant women were enrolled during 2010-2014. The age of the children was between 4-6 years old.
The study followed the kids for one year, then four to six years and will continue following them till they are eight to ten years old.
The main function of the placenta is that it nourishes the fetus and protects it against the mother's immune system. It also helps to maintain a healthy intrauterine environment. Certain changes in the placenta like inflammation or insulin signaling can be a marker for the disease later in life.
It was observed that the placental IGF-1 receptor protein was lined with serum triglycerides in children which can later lead to obesity or diabetes. Some other proteins in the placenta were shown to have an association with increased fat tissue on the arms and thighs of children.
All of these observations revealed a novel link between placental function and long-term metabolic outcomes. According to Jansson, if the placenta does not function properly during pregnancy, the doctors may be able to intervene. Jansson said, "If we know the placenta is impaired or changed during pregnancy we can design interventions to modulate that function and decrease the risk to the fetus. Treating pregnant women is always difficult but the placenta is accessible whereas the fetus is largely inaccessible."
These findings can help to develop a kind of personalized medicine that begins before birth.
Keleher said, "I think a better understanding of the mechanisms linking placental function to childhood and adult metabolic disease risk may offer innovative avenues to preventing them in future generations."