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A high fat diet during pregnancy can lead to severe liver disease in offspring

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9 October 2009

BBSRC-funded scientists have discovered a previously unknown link between a mother’s diet in pregnancy and a severe form of liver disease in her child.

In a study, published in the journal Hepatology today, researchers at the University of Southampton found that a high fat diet during a woman’s pregnancy makes her offspring more likely to develop a severe form of fatty liver disease when they reach adulthood. The findings are another piece in the jigsaw for scientists who believe diets containing too high levels of saturated fat may have an adverse effect on our health.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition associated with obesity and caused by the build up of fat in the liver. This liver condition progresses in some people and it is important to understand the factors that contribute to disease progression. Until recently, NAFLD was considered rare and relatively harmless but now it is one of the most common forms of liver disease that may progress to cirrhosis, a serious life threatening chronic liver disease.

Professor Christopher Byrne with colleagues Dr Felino Cagampang and Dr Kim Bruce, of the University’s School of Medicine and researchers at King’s College London, conducted the study. Prof Byrne explained: “This research shows that too much saturated fat in a mother’s diet can affect the developing liver of a fetus, making it more susceptible to developing fatty liver disease later in life. An unhealthy saturated fat-enriched diet in the child and young adult compounds the problem further causing a severe form of the fatty liver disease later in adult life.”

The next stage of this research, also funded by BBSRC, will be to understand, more precisely, the reason why fatty liver disease develops and to intervene to prevent the fatty liver disease occurring.

The on-going study represents another piece of pioneering research by the University’s School of Medicine, which has a worldwide reputation studying the relationship between mother’s diet in pregnancy and health problems in their offspring.



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Notes to Editors

Microscopic images of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are available.

The paper is available on Hepatology’s website by visiting: Ref: DOI 10.1002/hep.23205

About the University of Southampton's School of Medicine

Established in 1971, the University of Southampton's School of Medicine is at the forefront of medical and basic science research. It is one of the top ten UK medical schools for research income and high quality outputs, and its innovative educational programme has been rated excellent (the highest possible rating) by the government-backed Quality Assurance Agency.

The School is committed to academic excellence in all aspects of research and medical education. It operates a highly focused research strategy with large interdisciplinary Research Divisions that bridge traditional subject boundaries. These divisions provide a critical mass of research resources and explore areas of common intellectual interests around important clinical problems. There are six Research Divisions and an Education Division reflecting the School's major strengths: Human Genetics; Community Clinical Sciences; Infection, Inflammation and Immunity; Cancer Sciences; Developmental Origins of Health and Disease; and Clinical Neurosciences.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities.

External contact

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