New­born test to head off obe­sity

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - News - GRANT McARTHUR

AUSSIE re­searchers are work­ing to de­velop a new test they hope will iden­tify new­borns who have the great­est risk of grow­ing up obese to al­low for ear­lier in­ter­ven­tions.

By scan­ning the blood of new­borns and their moth­ers for lipids and ge­netic mark­ers, Baker IDI sci­en­tists believe they can iden­tify those chil­dren likely to de­velop meta­bolic con­di­tions that will lead to weight gain and health is­sues.

Ex­ist­ing lipid tests are used to scan for choles­terol and triglyc­erides in adults, but as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and lead re­searcher Peter Meikle and his team will un­der­take much wider screen­ing to ex­am­ine up to 600 mark­ers in in­fants to de­ter­mine which mark­ers ap­pear to in­flu­ence obe­sity.

“We are try­ing to use this com­bi­na­tion of lipidomic pro­file, com­bined with ge­netic pro­files, to iden­tify those chil­dren that are on these ad­verse health tra­jec­to­ries — those who are go­ing on to de­velop obe­sity or other fac­tors of meta­bolic dis­ease,” As­soc Prof Meikle said.

“We can look at those fac­tors very early in life, even at birth or po­ten­tially even in utero by look­ing at the mother’s diet and health as well.

“Po­ten­tially this could be in­cor­po­rated into new­born screen­ing, which al­ready ex­ists for a whole range of ge­netic dis­eases. This is a step well be­yond that be­cause we are not re­ally talk­ing about a ge­netic dis­ease, we are talk­ing about the risk of dis­ease some­where down the track.

“But the tech­nol­ogy is there to do all this in the new­born pe­riod.”

Backed by a $350,000 fed­eral gov­ern­ment grant an­nounced this week, the Baker re­searchers will ex­am­ine blood sam­ples col­lected at the birth of 2000 chil­dren born in Aus­tralia and Sin­ga­pore five years ago, and com­pare the re­sults with their cur­rent health sta­tus.

The re­searchers hope to find which of the lipid mark­ers are com­mon in those chil­dren who are now grow­ing up obese or with meta­bolic con­di­tions, but which are not present in those with a health­ier pro­file.

While the project is in its in­fancy, As­soc Prof Meikle, who is based in Mel­bourne, said that be­ing able to iden­tify which chil­dren re­quire greater ma­ter­nal health at­ten­tion would have a huge im­pact on chil­dren’s health and would have tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for the wider com­mu­nity.

“It is very dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive if you try to ap­ply those types of in­ter­ven­tions that are avail­able to ev­ery child,” he said.

“But if we can iden­tify those who are re­ally at high risk, then we can tar­get those in­ter­ven­tions and stop them go­ing down that path.”

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