Can hormones in the gut cause diabetes during pregnancy?

Our researchers want to understand whether the mixture of hormones and bacteria in our guts can increase the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. This could lead to new ways of treating the condition, thus preventing complications for mother and baby.
  • Author's list

    Professor Catherine Williamson, Dr Caroline Ovadia, Dr Peter Dixon, Professor Hanns-Ulrich Marschall

    Start date: 2018
    End date: 2021

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

Diabetes that is diagnosed during pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes are more likely to have large babies and are at higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia. Their babies are also more likely to have obesity, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes in later life. Gestational diabetes is becoming more common, and so it is even more important that we find better ways of treating it.

What’s happening in this project?

There is growing evidence that the contents of our guts – both chemicals produced by our own bodies and bacteria – can influence the risk of us developing diseases such as diabetes. Certain substances in the gut can make the body release hormones that in turn change the way the body reacts to things like sugar and cholesterol. These gut hormones may also affect the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. 

In this study, our researchers will ask pregnant women with diabetes to eat a special diet, designed by a dietician, for one day. During the day, the team will take timed blood samples to measure gut hormones released into the blood. They will also collect stool samples to work out which bacteria and chemicals in the gut might be causing the release of these hormones. The team think that women with gestational diabetes may have a different mixture of bacteria and chemicals in their gut, compared to women with a healthy pregnancy.

The team also want to find out whether it is possible to alter the contents of a woman’s gut – and consequently the hormones that are released – by treating the gestational diabetes. To find out the best way of doing this, they will look at the gut hormones found in women who are being treated in the GUARD study. In GUARD, women with gestational diabetes are being treated with either metformin, a drug currently used to treat gestational diabetes, or with UDCA, a drug which is currently used to treat intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Our researchers have already found that UDCA could be more effective than metformin in treating gestational diabetes, and they think this might be because of how UDCA is processed in the gut.

What difference will this project make?

The results of this research will help us to find safe, effective ways of controlling diabetes during pregnancy. This means we can help more women to have healthy babies without complications.

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