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Diabetes Discovery Could Lead to Big Difference in Lives of Moms and Offspring

New Northwestern Medicine® research could one day help women know their risk for developing gestational diabetes before they become pregnant – and lead to preventive measures to protect the health of offspring.

Gestational diabetes affects 18 percent of pregnancies. Babies born to women with gestational diabetes are typically larger at birth, which can lead to complications during delivery. They are also at an increased risk of developing metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, in childhood and adulthood.

The findings were published online July 31 in Diabetes, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.

Gestational diabetes has been associated with type 2 diabetes, because during pregnancy, resistance to insulin increases, similar to the effect of weight gain during a lifetime.

But researchers found variants in two genes – HKDC1 and BACE2 – that were associated with measures of glucose and insulin levels of pregnant women but not in the rest of the population, including people with type 2 diabetes.

“With additional study and verification of these and other risk genes, we could one day have genetic risk profiles to identify individuals at elevated risk for developing gestational diabetes,” says M. Geoffrey Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of medicine-endocrinology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health grants HD34242, HD34243, HG004415, and CA141688, Institutes of Health Research – INMD (funding reference #110791) and by the American Diabetes Association.