OHSU Researchers to Study Impacts of Maternal Obesity, High-Fat Diets on Newborns

05/01/08  Portland, Ore.

The studies will be funded through a prestigious Burroughs-Wellcome research award to OHSU obesity and weight regulation researcher/physician Daniel Marks, M.D., Ph.D. 

Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University are embarking on a new research study aimed at determining the health impacts on newborn children whose mothers choose a high-fat diet during pregnancy. The research is made possible through a grant from the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, an independent, private foundation that supports biomedical research.
 
“America’s ongoing obesity epidemic has impacted the entire population: adults, children and even pregnant mothers,” explained Daniel Marks, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the OHSU Center for the Study of Weight Regulation and Associated Disorders, and an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology in the OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

“One-third of American women at child-bearing age are currently considered obese,” explained Marks. “This is an alarming statistic given the large number of serious illnesses linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.”

In this study, OHSU researchers will be tracking the health of newborn children born to mothers who choose to maintain a high-fat diet during their pregnancy. Specifically, the scientists will be on the lookout for signs of liver disease. Using this data, the researchers hope to determine the warning signs in pregnant mothers that may lead to liver disease in their children so that preventive actions, such as a change in diet, can be made at the appropriate time and in a way that does not further endanger a baby’s health.

The human-based research follows animal studies conducted at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). This research, which was directed by ONPRC Scientist Kevin Grove, Ph.D., demonstrated the specific impacts to offspring when a mother consistently eats a high-fat diet. In many cases, the offspring of these mothers exhibit the signs of fatty liver disease. It is believed that human studies will result in similar findings.

“We hope that our studies will lead to new practices and guidelines for expecting mothers so that their babies are born healthy and do not face the serious health consequences of obesity that were once only reserved for teenagers and adults,” said Marks.

OHSU’s newly formed Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute played a key role in obtaining this research funding. The institute was the first of 12 such centers funded by the National Institutes of Health with the goal of more rapidly transforming basic science discoveries into human health advancements. Oregon’s center provides extensive support to researchers in both achieving the necessary funding for research and the conducting studies.         

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.