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Pregnant woman eating

Innovative approach to assess how diet of pregnant woman might impact foetal development

Key Points

  • Australian researchers have devised a multi-layered research approach to track the macro and micronutrients consumed by a mother during pregnancy.

  • The stable isotopes δ13C and δ15N were measured to indicate key biochemical processes.

  • At ANSTO the Stable Isotope Analysis group used isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyse stable isotope ratios.

An Australian team at the Heart Research Institute (HRI) and The University of Sydney have collaborated with ANSTO to expand on a study from Spain as part of the first large-scale multi centre clinical trail to find evidence that a Mediterranean diet for pregnant women can positively impact foetal heart development and reduce the percentage of babies with birth weight below the 10th percentile.

Stable isotope analysis at ANSTO was used in a multi-layered research approach to track the macro and micronutrients consumed by a mother during pregnancy. It involved identifying the difference between the amounts of carbon and nitrogen present in the foetal blood after digestion.

Dr Xiao Suo Wang, the lead researcher at HRI highlighted the unique capability of isotope tracing for human health research at ANSTO.

“Isotope ratio mass spectrometry can provide information on dietary patterns by accurately measuring isotope ratios of carbon that correlate with highly processed food, and high nitrogen isotope ratios that correspond to unhealthy animal protein sources,” she said.

The Stable Isotope Analysis group at ANSTO uses isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyse stable isotope ratios, including δ2H and δ18O/d16O in water and δ13C and δ15N in biological matter. 

In particular, the stable isotopes δ13C and δ15N can indicate biochemical processes to reflect the impact of diet on living organisms.

The group is also currently supporting Michael Rahman from the University of Sydney, who is combining stable isotope analysis and lipid profiling to examine the impact of maternal sugar consumption on foetal heart development.

This dietary relationship is not currently well understood and characterising it further using these techniques can potentially be used to provide nutritional guidance to expecting mothers in the future.

The results so far indicate that there is a significant relationship between a high-sugar diet and heightened lipids in maternal plasma, which is also linked to a thicker interventricular heart wall in infants. This condition can be very harmful to the cardiac health of a child.

“The lab is usually very busy with environmental studies of water, ecosystems, food security and climate. This project represents an exciting opportunity for ANSTO to broaden applications of stable isotopes,” said Principal Research Scientist Dr Cath Hughes.

“We look forward to continuing this work and contributing to the completion of this impactful and interesting research."

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What are isotopes

What are isotopes

Isotopes are forms of an element that have different numbers of neutrons. All isotopes of an element have the same atomic number and number of protons, but they have different atomic masses Isotopes of an element share similar chemical properties but have different nuclear properties. A stable isotope does not decay.

Credit: A Vargas /IAEA



Dr Xiao Suo Wang HRI

Dr Xiao Suo Wang, HRI