Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) recently demonstrated how high glucose levels in pregnant women may prevent babies’ heart cells from developing normally, shedding more light on congenital heart disease risk.
When growing fetal heart cells endure high levels of glucose, they tend to reproduce more rapidly rather than maturing to full size due to overstimulation of cellular production, according to a university press release.
“High blood sugar levels are not only unhealthy for adults; they’re unhealthy for developing fetuses,” said Atsushi “Austin” Nakano, lead scientist in a study at UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. “Understanding the mechanism by which high blood sugar levels cause disease in the fetus may eventually lead to new therapies.”
While heart disease often stems from genetic predisposition, gestational diabetes is the top non-genetic risk factor, according to researchers. Babies born to mothers with high glucose levels are two to five times more likely to experience the condition. The team observed similar results in mice, noting that fetal heart cells reproduced rapidly but grew to maturity slowly.
Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in the United States, affecting almost 1 out of every 100 children born, the release said.