Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
  Avian & pandemic flu
  Cancer
  Earthquakes
  Floods
  HIV & AIDS
  Malaria
  Stem cells
  Volcanoes
  Water
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Finland
  France
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States


This page was published on 11/01/2005
Published: 11/01/2005

   Special Collections

Last Update: 11-01-2005  
Related category(ies):
Health & life sciences  |  Special Collections  |  Pure sciences

 

Add to PDF "basket"

Stem cells could tell us the secrets of ill-health in later life

European life scientists are drawing closer to understanding the link between foetal development and nutrition and illnesses which occur later in life. Animal tests have shown the importance of this relationship but, with human trials out of the question, the researchers are turning to stem cells to provide the answers.

Mmm, I wonder what my mum ate during her pregnancy? © PhotoDisc
Mmm, I wonder what my mum ate during her pregnancy?
© PhotoDisc
Expecting mothers know almost instinctively that what they eat while pregnant could affect their unborn child. But now scientists in the United Kingdom believe our mothers' diets during pregnancy may even affect our predisposition to illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, in later life.

Studies using animals have shown a link between diet and the lifelong health of offspring but proving this with human trials is ethically tricky, as experiments with pregnant women or unborn children are not possible. Researchers, funded by the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have turned to embryonic human stem cells – undifferentiated master cells from which specialised cells develop – to provide the answers.

The scientists, led by Dr Lorraine Young at the University of Nottingham's Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (UK), are looking at the fundamental process of methylation. This is one of the ways that our body controls which genes are working in which tissues and at what time by tagging some of our DNA with small chemical markers called methyl groups.

“We are trying to identify the primary factors that influence the methylation process and which, therefore, might affect an unborn child's long-term susceptibility to certain diseases in later life,” explains Dr Young about her work. “We can use unspecialised stem cells to study the effect of diet on the tagging of the DNA and then induce them to develop into a cell type, such as a heart cell, to see whether the effect is still there.”

You are what mother ate
The methylation process is essential for controlling gene activity as an organism grows and develops into adulthood. Faults in this process are known to cause some rare developmental diseases but Dr Young's group now believes that a foetus' response to its mother's diet could affect this process as well, leading to changes in gene activity and greater susceptibility to disease in later life.

The researchers are looking at nutrients such as vitamin B12, amino acids and the popular pregnancy supplement, folic acid. Their findings will feature in the January 2005 issue of Business , the quarterly magazine of the BBSRC, the British funding agency for research in the life sciences.

Chief Executive of BBSRC, Professor Julia Goodfellow, says the work could also provide insight into the best conditions for children conceived using in vitro fertilisation technology. “We may be able to optimise the nutrient mix and levels in the culture media to give early embryonic cells the best conditions for the lifelong functioning of their DNA,” she notes.

The EU has also dedicated research funding – under its Sixth Research Framework Programme – for the ‘Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' thematic priority, which has a budget of over €2.25 billion. A number of cutting-edge European projects have already been approved and launched. The Commission also recently set up a European Platform on Innovative Medicines to “remove bottlenecks hampering… development of new medicines, and where research is the key to resolve current obstacles for the European pharma/biotechnology industry”. 

News and EU services

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Sixth Framework Programme (FP6)

Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health

Major projects library (information about FP6 projects)

European Platform on Innovative Medicines


Contacts
Research Contacts page
  Top   Research Information Center