Genes provide tremendous information about how our bodies work and our possible predisposition for a variety of diseases and conditions. Researchers are working to discern what specific genes and gene regions play a role in disease.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia played a major role in a recent international genetics study that found four new gene regions that contribute to low birth weight. In particular, the investigators found that three of those regions influence metabolism in adults and may play a role in adult height, the risk of type 2 diabetes, and adult blood pressure.
The article was the second major study on birth weight by the Early Growth Genetics (EGG) Consortium, which includes scientists from multiple countries, including the United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United States. Earlier this year, Children’s Hospital led another EGG study — the largest-ever genome-wide study of common childhood obesity — that found two novel gene variants that increase the risk of that condition.
The current study involved nearly 70,000 individuals across 50 separate studies of pregnancy and birth. In addition to confirming that three previously discovered genetic regions increased the risk of low birth weight, the consortium discovered four new regions — two of which were previously linked to a risk of type 2 diabetes and two newly found regions suggesting a risk of shorter adult stature. The researchers linked a third region to adult blood pressure, representing the first time that scientists have found a genetic link common to both birth weight and blood pressure.
“This study demonstrates that genes acting early in development have important effects on health both in childhood and beyond,” said Struan F.A. Grant, PhD, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics at Children’s Hospital. “While we continue to learn more about the biology, an important implication is that designing prenatal interventions to improve birth weight could have lifelong health benefits.”
For more information about the study, visit the CHOP Research Institute’s website.