High glucose levels in mothers can affect heart cells in babies

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US scientists have discovered how high blood sugar levels can impact heart development of babies born to women with diabetes.
When developing heart cells are exposed to high glucose levels, they generate too many building blocks of DNA. Rather than maturing, these cells keep reproducing, and researchers believe this finding could form a basis for preventing congenital heart disease in women with diabetes.
“High blood sugar levels are not only unhealthy for adults; they’re unhealthy for developing fetuses,” said lead author Atsushi Nakano, from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
“Understanding the mechanism by which high blood sugar levels cause disease in the fetus may eventually lead to new therapies.”
Pregnant women with diabetes can reduce the risk of their child experiencing health complications by eating a healthy diet and maintaining safe blood sugar control.
In this study, the effects of high glucose levels were examined as researchers used human embryonic stem cells to grow heart muscle cells which were then exposed to varying levels of glucose. The cells mixed with high levels of glucose matured late or failed to mature at all, but those exposed to small amounts of glucose matured normally.
“By depleting glucose at the right point in development, we can limit the proliferation of the cells, which coaxes them to mature and makes the heart muscle stronger,” said Nakano.
The study team observed similar findings in pregnant mice with diabetes, with heart cells of fetusus proliferating and dividing quickly but maturing slowly.
Nakano and colleagues concluded that targeting the pathways affected by glucose could improve cell maturity in future research, and reduce the risk of congenital heart disease, which is associated with maternal hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels in the mother).
The findings have been published in the journal eLife.