Studies have proved that the children of obese parents are predisposed to suffer from obesity and metabolic disorders. However, the reason and the cause behind this phenomenon are under investigation.

  • Results show 30 percent higher fat content in cells cultured from stem cells of babies with obese mothers

The fundamental question that needs to be addressed is how the children of obese mothers develop a pre-disposition to the disease, more importantly prior to birth.

A study presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 75th Scientific Sessions suggested that the mother’s in-utero environment might play a role in this regard. The mother programs the baby’s cells to accumulate excessive amounts of fat, or alters the baby’s normal metabolism, potentially leading to insulin resistance.  

Risk of obese offspring might begin in womb

Kristen E. Boyle, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, explained that the study focused on exploring the mechanism through which the above mentioned ‘pre-programming’ of the baby’s cells takes place in the mother’s womb. The study involved taking stem cells from umbilical cords that had been donated. These cords belonged to babies of mothers who were obese as well as of normal weight at their first pre-natal visit. The stem cells were then cultured in the lab to grow into fat and muscle cells.

Results showed that the fat content was 30 percent higher in both the cells cultured from the stem cells obtained from cords of babies who had obese mothers. Further investigation into whether the cells have altered metabolic features is also underway.

“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,” Dr. Kristen E. Boyle stated. “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.”

Dr. Boyle and her team are pursuing a detailed metabolic assessment into finding the precise mechanism of how these cells utilize fat. They are examining how these cells produce energy and whether this mechanism plays a role in accumulating more fat in the cells of baby’s of obese mothers. Factors such as inflammation, altered metabolic characteristics and insulin resistance are also being examined.