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Update on research into obesity and pregnancy

Complications of obesity in pregnancy13 June 2013

For the past two years, Grace has been funding two important research projects with your hard earned donations. Here, the Lead Professor of the first project talks about about the findings for Grace. We'll post the second project soon.

Obesity and pregnancy

Professor Siobhan Quenby
£20,000 funding over two years

This project's goal was to identify and tackle the increased likelihood of premature and problematic births in obese women.

What we knew beforehand

  • We knew that the uterus of obese women contracts poorly leading to multiple complications in labour for the mother and her baby.
  • Work I did previously suggested that there is something intrinsically wrong with the uterine muscle in obese women that means it contracts poorly.

New findings funded by Grace

  • Using more careful and detailed experiments than those we did previously, we found that tissue from the uterus of women having a caesarean section contracts well in the laboratory, whether it comes from obese or normal weight women.
  • Substances secreted by fat tissue from obese women inhibited uterine contractions in the laboratory. However, substances secreted by fat tissue from normal weight women do not do this.
  • The substances from the fat tissue from obese women inhibit calcium entry into the cell. Calcium entry is essential for a cell to contract.
  • When cholesterol in the form of LDL was added to uterine muscle it contracted less well. When cholesterol was removed from the uterine muscle in contracted better.

Overall conclusions

Factors secreted by fat tissue in obese women can directly inhibit uterine contractions. Cholesterol could be one of these factors. The clinical implications of this are:

  • We could develop a blood test of the substances secreted by fat tissue for women in antenatal clinic to find out whether they are a risk of poor uterine contractility.
  • We are developing new strategies to get the uterus of obese women to contract better so they have normal labours and safe deliveries for their babies.
  • We have put in a grant to the MRC to investigate the effect of diet on uterine contractility with the Nutrition unit at the University of Nottingham.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in supporting the vital work of the Grace Research Fund!