updated 2 Nov 2009, 06:19
    Powered by
user id password
Fri, Oct 30, 2009
my paper
EmailPrintDecrease text sizeIncrease text size
Treating babies in the womb
by Dawn Tay

IN THE future, Singapore scientists may be able to prevent or treat conditions such as diabetes and obesity – even before a person is born.

They will track about 1,200 pregnant women and their children, to study how environmental factors in pregnancy, birth and early childhood can cause metabolic diseases later in life.

Such disorders disrupt normal metabolism, the process of converting food to energy on a cellular level.

The scientists will look into ways of preventing the diseases under the five-year Gusto (Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes) study, launched yesterday.

The research team from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), the National University Health System (NUHS) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research has secured $11 million in government funding for five years.

It aims to garner more funds to track individuals from the time they are in their mothers’ wombs, during the early stage of pregnancy, until their adulthood.

This is the first time such a study will be conducted here.

It hopes to find early signs of metabolic diseases, and to develop lifestyle changes and new drugs to help fight the rising tide of such ailments in Asia, said lead investigator Chong Yap Seng of NUHS.

After the first five years, the team hopes to understand how a mother’s weight, diet and lifestyle can affect her baby’s growth, which may in turn affect the baby’s future health.

Studies overseas, such as the ongoing Southampton Women’s Survey in Britain, have shown that a mother’s diet, and a baby’s weight and growth before birth may influence metabolic-disease development later in life.

For example, if a mother has diabetes during her pregnancy, she may have a heavier baby who is more likely to develop obesity and diabetes in the future, said another principal investigator, NUHS Associate Professor Saw Seang Mei.

The Singapore study will also explore the effects of other nongenetic factors, such as a mother’s breast-feeding habits and amount of body fat.

Prof Saw added: “The results... may be extrapolated to other Asian countries.”

About 300 Singaporean mothers-to-be have signed up for the study since June. Those eligible include citizens or permanent residents in their first trimester who intend to deliver in KKH or National University Hospital.

Their health, diet and lifestyle will be monitored, at no cost, through clinic and home visits, and ultrasound scans.

After the birth of their babies, the umbilical cord, cord blood and placenta – which are usually discarded – will be taken for sampling.

Pre-school teacher Rajeswari Ravichandran, 21, who is taking part in the study, said: “I initially had many questions about the study, but now I feel safe knowing that my baby’s health is being monitored.”

[email protected]

For more information, visit

For more my paper stories click here.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2009 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.