Gestational Diabetes May Increase Baby’s Heart Disease Risk

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Results from an Indiana University School of Medicine study finds having gestational diabetes may increase the risk of blood vessel dysfunction and heart disease in babies.

Researchers believe gestational diabetes may increase the risk of blood vessel dysfunction and heart disease by altering a smooth muscle protein responsible for blood vessel network formation. The study is published in the American Journal of Physiology.

Gestational diabetes affects approximately 7 percent of pregnant women. Uncontrolled gestational diabetes may result in high blood pressure during pregnancy which could have serious complications.

Previous research has found that levels of a protein called transgelin are higher in babies whose mothers had gestational diabetes.

“Several previous studies have already shown that exposure to maternal diabetes increases a child’s incidence of future disease, specifically diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure,” Emily Blue, assistant research professor and one of the study author’s told dLife. “Our work builds on these studies by identifying proteins that have abnormal levels in a baby’s blood cells following exposure to a mother’s diabetes.”

Transgelin is found in the endothelial colony forming cells (ECFCs) that line the walls of blood vessels. Transgelin regulates among other things, building blood vessel networks.   A baby’s umbilical cord blood is rich in ECFCs and scientists believe dysfunction of these cells may play a role in long-term blood vessel health and increase the risk of children developing heart disease later in life.

Researchers studied the effects of elevated transgelin levels on cord blood ECFCs. They compared cord-blood samples taken at the time of birth from women with gestational diabetes to a control group without pregnancy complications.

Cord blood ECFCs do not typically contain high levels of transgelin. However, the samples taken from the umbilical cord blood of the gestational diabetes group showed higher protein levels and increased dysfunction of the blood vessels during formation.

Decreasing transgelin in the diabetes-exposed cells “significantly improved initial [blood vessel] network formation, ongoing network stabilization, and cell migration,” the research team reported in their study.

What Can Be Done Currently?

“One of the challenges right now is that we don’t know how to prevent heart disease in these children,” explains Blue. “The research is still in the early stages, and much needs to be done to understand why and how the disease develops.”

While the team’s research has identified high levels of the protein transgelin in cord blood cells that likely contributes to future disease, more studies are needed to reach an outcome.

“We are hopeful that transgelin or other proteins like it might be used in to identify those children most at risk of heart disease and to find ways to treat or even prevent future disease,” she states.

Unfortunately, most mothers with gestational diabetes probably are not aware of their baby’s increased risk of heart disease.

“It is our hope that as more is known about why children of gestational diabetes-mothers have elevated risk, that education of health care providers and parents will improve.”

The ultimate goal is that children won’t go undiagnosed until later in life, at which time the opportunity for prevention is diminished.