UPBEAT: predicting the likelihood of gestational diabetes

Our researchers are finding out whether a blood test taken early in pregnancy can help predict which obese women will develop diabetes during their pregnancy.

Start: September 2018

End: August 2019

This project is now complete.

Why do we need this research?

Although diabetes in pregnancy – known as gestational diabetes  – is fairly common, it can increase the risk of pregnancy complications, including pre-eclampsia, premature birth and stillbirth. This means that it is important for women to be diagnosed at the right time so that the condition can be managed effectively.

In the UK, all women who are thought to be at risk of developing gestational diabetes are given an oral glucose tolerance test  when they are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant. However, this test is time consuming, and sometimes it’s done too late in pregnancy, as some of the effects of gestational diabetes can occur much earlier.

We need to find better ways to diagnose gestational diabetes earlier than we’re currently able to.

What happened in this project?

Lipids are fatty molecules that are found in the body’s tissues and in blood – we all need small amounts of them in our bodies. However, women who develop diabetes in pregnancy can have unusual lipids in their blood. Our researchers wanted to see whether the presence of these lipids in blood as early as week 17 of pregnancy could be used to predict the chances of a woman developing gestational diabetes.

To do this, they worked with colleagues at the University of Cambridge to look at blood samples taken as part of the UPBEAT study, the largest ever clinical study of obese pregnant women.

The team looked for lipids in blood samples donated at week 17 by the women in the study. In the women who went on to develop gestational diabetes, they found that several lipids had abnormally high or abnormally low levels, compared to women with uncomplicated pregnancies. This means that it could be possible to spot the signs of gestational diabetes 10 weeks earlier than the current standard test.

In the future, the team plan to investigate how these differences in the lipids in the blood occur. They will also look at blood samples donated by these women at 28 weeks, to see how the lipids change throughout pregnancy.

What difference will this project make?

This work could lead to a new test to help predict if a woman is likely to develop gestational diabetes, which could be used by doctors much earlier in pregnancy than the current standard test. This would mean that the condition can be treated early to prevent any health complications for both mother and baby.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

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