Diabetes in writingWith an increasing body of evidence supporting the link between maternal obesity and the increased risk factors of children being prone to obesity, scientists have been investigating possible stem cell links to determine the relationship between the two.

Children of obese parents are prone to obesity, placing them at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Although the cause for this is unknown, scientists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine have been investigating an in utero link to see if obese mothers may program a child’s cells to accumulate extra fat or develop differences in metabolism that could lead to insulin resistance.

“One of the questions that needs to be explored is how children of obese mothers may be at risk for becoming obese as a result of factors that occur even before they are born,” said Kristen E. Boyle, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our study looked at the mechanism by which children may be pre-programmed for increased obesity risk, because of changes occurring in utero.”

Boyle and her team took stem cells from donated umbilical cords of the babies of normal-weight and obese mothers and grew them into fat and muscle cells in the lab. They found a 30% higher fat content in both types of cells in the offspring of mothers who were obese at their first prenatal visit, compared to the cells of offspring of normal-weight moms. They are continuing to evaluate the data to determine if these cells show evidence of altered metabolism.

“At this point, because this is fairly preliminary, we don’t know how these differences in cells grown in the lab correspond to the physiology of these children after birth,” Boyle said. “But it’s clear that there is an inherent propensity toward more fat content in the cells from offspring of obese moms, in culture. We also know that the fat accumulation in these cells corresponded to the baby’s fat mass at birth. The next step is to follow these offspring to see if there is a lasting change into adulthood.”