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Colorado Researchers Look At Obesity On Cellular Level

AURORA, Colo (CBS4) - Millions of Americans have pre-diabetes, some of them don't even know it. Obesity is one of the leading causes of Type 2 diabetes. Now Colorado researchers are looking at what causes obesity on the cellular level.

The Healthy Start Study is currently following 1,410 mothers through pregnancy and the first five years of their baby's life. The goal of the study is find out how the pregnancy environment impacts the baby in terms of obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

LINK: Healthy Start Study

"If we understand these associations…these relationships between an exposure during pregnancy and obesity in the children, we can derive, devise, define, plan randomized clinical trials to understand what kinds of interventions we can apply and when," said Dr. Dana Debelea, principal investigator on the trial.

Ashley Sommers signed up for the study. She and her son, Ewan, have been tracked through her pregnancy and his first 11 months.

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Ewan and Ashley Sommers (Credit CBS)

"During my pregnancy, I was trying so hard to be healthy because my concern was whatever happened now would affect him in the future," Sommers told CBS4.

She carefully tracked what she ate and how much she exercised. Ashley lost 65 pounds since her pregnancy. She worried that because she was overweight, Ewan would be too.

"To know that what we do during pregnancy and even before pregnancy does correlate with our children's lives," Sommers said.

"This is happening… by these fetuses, these babies being exposed in utero to a maternal environment that is high in nutrients… glucose, lipids, and other kinds of fuels that go to the fetus and program their tissues and organs and cells to be sensitive in the postnatal life," Debelea explained.

"Our goal really at the heart of this is to help moms and their babies," said Kristen E. Boyle, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Boyle is taking the research to the cellular level. Using cord blood from babies in the Healthy Starts study, she's seen a connection between what and how much a mother eats to how a baby's cells develop.

"We found that when we culture out stem cells from umbilical cord tissue of babies born to obese moms and we look at the capacity to become fat cells in the lab, those cells from babies of obese moms have a 50 percent greater capacity to become fat cells and during that process they accumulate a lot more lipids than cells from babies from normal weight moms," Boyle told CBS4.

If researchers can figure out what causes obesity on a cellular level, they have a better chance of preventing it and cutting the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

You can support diabetes research in Colorado by participating in the Tour de Cure. The American Diabetes Association is hosting the bike ride on Saturday, August 15th at the Boulder County Fairgrounds.

LINK: 2015 Tour de Cure Colorado

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