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

Lipids are fatty substances 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. We want to explore this further.

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, there are drawbacks to this approach. First, the test is time consuming (3 hours) and women sometimes fail to attend these appointments. Second, the test is taken too late in pregnancy; we now know that some of the effects of gestational diabetes can occur much earlier than the 24 to 28 week mark.

Our collaborators at the University of Cambridge have recently shown that five unusual lipids can help predict whether a woman is going to develop gestational diabetes or not.

We now want to see whether the presence of these lipids in blood as early as week 17 of pregnancy can be used to predict the chances of a woman developing gestational diabetes.

We also want to see whether there is a change in the lipids that are found in blood throughout pregnancy.

To do this, we will be looking at blood samples taken as part of the UPBEAT study, which is the largest ever clinical study of obese pregnant women. We hope that our findings will give health professionals an easy way to predict early in pregnancy if a woman is likely to develop gestational diabetes, meaning that the condition can be treated.


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

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