Genes affect birth weight and risk of lifestyle diseases – University of Copenhagen

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BIOCHILD > News > 2016 > Genes affect birth

07 October 2016

Genes affect birth weight and risk of lifestyle diseases

GENES

Researchers have identified 60 genes that are essential for babies' birth weight and can also predict whether a child is at risk of developing lifestyle diseases later in life. Danish researchers involved in the study find the new results for a breakthrough for the prevention and treatment of lifestyle diseases.

New international research shows that there is a close link between 60 specific genes and birth weight. In addition, the same genes are coupled with the risk of children to develop lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. The new research has just been published in the scientific journal Nature.

"The results are groundbreaking in the context of linking certain genetic factors which influence early child growth to adult diseases via shared patho-physiological mechanisms and will be important for future prevention and treatment of lifestyle diseases. By screening children at a young age, we can via their DNA profiles foresee whether they are at risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardio-metabolic problems. If so, we can establish prevention work in terms of diet and exercise and also offer better treatments suited to their genetic profiles," says Professor Haja Kadarmideen, head of Animal Breeding, Quantitative Genetics and Systems Biology group as well as the director of the BioChild Consortium at the University of Copenhagen. Haja Kardamideen’s research consortium also includes scientists from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen (Professor Oluf Pedersen, Professor Thorkild I.A. Sørensen, Professor Torben Hansen and Associate Professor Niels Grarup and other scientists) as well as scientists from the Childhood Obesity Clinic at the Holbæk Hospital, Research Director and Chief physician Jens-Christian Holm.

"By screening children at a young age, we can via their DNA profiles foresee whether they are at risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardio-metabolic problems. If so, we can establish prevention work in terms of diet and exercise and also offer better treatments suited to their genetic profiles

Professor Haja Kadarmideen

He underlines that the paper is a result of massive international collaboration, where multi-disciplinary teams including geneticists interacted with clinicians and epidemiologists in addressing major public health problems. Further Professor Haja Kadarmideen believes that this is a great achievement for us in moving much closer to realizing personalized and predictive medicine.

A unique international collaboration with major scientific potential The researchers analyzed genetic differences throughout the genomes of 153,781 people from around the world. By matching the characters of the genetic profiles with their weight researchers were able to identify the triangular regions of the genome that were predisposing to birth weight. Then the researchers analyzed data from previous studies on participants' health condition, including diabetes and heart disease. The researchers found that the genetic differences that were related to birth weight, was also present when the participants developed lifestyle diseases.

The study, which has involved 160 international researchers, is independent. Hans Bisgaard, Professor at the University of Copenhagen and Director of the Research Unit Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC), has been head of the Danish part of the study.

"The study is a unique example of how far we can reach with our research, when we work across national borders and all contribute with our knowledge. No scientist would be able to independently achieve results in this league, and it shows the tremendous strength that lies in international research consortia, "says Professor Hans Bisgaard.

"No scientist would be able to independently achieve results in this league, and it shows the tremendous strength that lies in international research consortia.

Professor Hans Bisgaard

New perspectives for the relationship between early life and diseases Hans Bisgaard says that an important part of the study has been to pursue the so-called Barker-theory, which assumes that there is a correlation between birth weight and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. The new results are therefore primarily a genetic evidence of the Barker-theory, but also open for other interesting scientific perspectives.

"It is very interesting that the new study results are linking early life with the development of diseases in later life. We have found a track that supports community from a variety of lifestyle diseases, and it opens up new perspectives. I research in asthma in young children, where we primarily look at prevention but also treatment of the disease. Here I have long had knowledge that early life and the mother's pregnancy plays a major role in the development of the disease. The new study therefore confirms my knowledge that it is important to look at the early life and pregnancy, when we need to understand how diseases arise, "says Hans Bisgaard, stating the need for more research in this area.

The study has just been published in Nature and can be read here. 

Contact: Press Officer Kristine Snedker, mail: kristine.snedker@sund.ku.dk; mobile: +45 23 64 88 42