Newborn test to head off obesity
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.”