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June 30, 2017

Drinking Diet Beverages During Pregnancy Linked to Child Obesity

photo of 3 pregnant women

Children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age 7, compared to children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank water instead of artificially sweetened beverages, according to a study led by researchers at NIH.

Childhood obesity is known to increase the risk for certain health problems later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. The study appears online in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

According to the study authors, as the volume of amniotic fluid increases, pregnant women tend to increase their consumption of fluids. To avoid extra calories, many pregnant women replace sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices with beverages containing artificial sweeteners.

Citing prior research implicating artificially sweetened beverages in weight gain, the study authors sought to determine if diet beverage consumption during pregnancy could influence the weight of children.

“Our findings suggest that artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages,” said study senior author Dr. Cuilin Zhang in the NICHD Epidemiology Branch. “Not surprisingly, we also observed that children born to women who drank water instead of sweetened beverages were less likely to be obese by age 7.”

Scientists Discover Rare Genetic Susceptibility to Common Cold

Scientists have identified a rare genetic mutation that results in a markedly increased susceptibility to infection by human rhinoviruses (HRVs)—the main causes of the common cold. Colds contribute to more than 18 billion upper respiratory infections worldwide each year, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study.

Researchers at NIAID identified the mutation in a young child with a history of severe HRV infections. The case, published online June 12 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, reveals an important mechanism by which the immune system responds to these viruses, say the study authors.

Several weeks after birth, the child began experiencing life-threatening respiratory infections, including colds, influenza and bacterial pneumonia. Because her physicians suspected she might have a primary immune deficiency—a genetic abnormality affecting her immune system—they performed a genetic analysis.

The analysis revealed that she had a mutation in the IFIH1 gene that caused her body to make dysfunctional MDA5 proteins in cells in her respiratory tract.

Previously, scientists had found that laboratory mice lacking functional MDA5 could not detect genetic material from several viruses, making them unable to launch appropriate immune responses against them.

Similarly, the NIH researchers found that mutant MDA5 in the girl’s respiratory tissues could not recognize HRVs, preventing her immune system from producing protective signaling proteins called interferons. HRV thus replicated unchecked in the girl’s respiratory tract, causing severe illness. These observations led the researchers to conclude that functional MDA5 is critical to protecting people against HRV.

With intensive care, the child survived numerous bouts of severe illness and her health improved as her immune system matured and formed protective antibodies against various infectious agents.

“The human immune response to common cold viruses is poorly understood,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “By investigating this unique case, our researchers not only helped this child but also helped answer some important scientific questions about these ubiquitous infections that affect nearly everyone.”

Workshop Addresses Opioid Misuse During Pregnancy

Research is essential to determining how best to screen pregnant women for opioid use disorder, to treat pregnant women who have the disorder and to care for infants as they experience withdrawal symptoms, according to experts convened for a workshop co-sponsored by NICHD. A summary of the workshop appears online in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Opioids are a class of drugs often used for pain relief. Approximately 91 people in the United States die every day from an opioid overdose, with more than 33,000 deaths in 2015—the highest on record—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bottle of medication with pills on table

Opioid prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999, putting large numbers of reproductive-age women at risk for developing opioid use disorder and their newborns at risk for drug withdrawal or neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“Opioid use disorder is an accelerating crisis in the United States, particularly among pregnant women,” said NICHD director Dr. Diana Bianchi. “NICHD brought together experts to review the current evidence on how to best recognize, treat and manage this condition and to identify the research needed to improve outcomes for affected women, their newborn infants and their families.”

Researchers Aim to Repurpose Cancer Therapy to Treat Muscular Dystrophy

Researchers at NCATS and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) have demonstrated that a drug originally targeted unsuccessfully to treat cancer may have new life as a potential treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

The candidate drug, SU9516, represents a different kind of approach for treating DMD, a degenerative muscle disease that usually begins in childhood and has no known cure. It is caused by a faulty gene that leads to progressive muscle weakness, with death often occurring around age 25.

Rather than trying to fix or replace the broken gene, SU9516 ramps up the muscle repair process, helping reinforce muscle structure.

NCATS Chemical Genomics Center acting branch chief Dr. Juan Marugan and UNR Med professor of pharmacology Dr. Dean Burkin led a team that screened more than 350,000 compounds to find SU9516, which had been previously developed as a treatment for leukemia. The research demonstrated that this compound improved muscle function in both laboratory and animal DMD models.

The results, published in Molecular Therapy, may provide a promising approach against the disorder and other muscle-wasting conditions.

Those with DMD lack dystrophin, a protein akin to a molecular shock-absorber that helps keep muscle cells intact. Without dystrophin, muscles are fragile and easily injured. Individuals lose muscle strength and the ability to repair damaged muscle tissue. Most die from heart or respiratory problems.

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