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Researching the link between Alzheimer’s Disease and those born to obese mothers

Shutterstock-474211294 Mother and baby

An Open University academic is researching the link between maternal obesity and the risk of their offspring developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in later life.

Dr Cheryl Hawkes, Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and her team, have received £49,876 from Alzheimer’s Research UK to conduct the study, which will run from September 2018 to August 2019.

Dr Hawkes is using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), which has been collecting clinical data from three generations of participants since 1948, to investigate if there is a link between maternal obesity and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in their aged children.

“There is increasing data from animal and human studies suggesting that the prenatal and early life environment has long term impacts on health, but no one has investigated this in terms of age-related neurodegenerative diseases like AD,” she said. “Using a mouse model of AD, we have previously shown that offspring born to mothers fed a high fat diet during pregnancy and lactation have more AD-like pathology when they are old than offspring born to mothers fed a low fat diet.”

This project will use this unique FHS cohort to study whether the findings also apply to humans,

“If we find that there is a relationship between maternal obesity and cognitive function in the aged offspring, this will provide a revolutionary understanding of when AD “starts” and will potentially help to identify “at risk” individuals that can be targeted for new interventional or treatment strategies to reduce or prevent the development of AD,” Dr Hawkes added.

Results from this innovative pilot study will help to understand the early life factors that influence an individual’s susceptibility to developing AD.

Read more about OU research in STEM.

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