Study shows a mother's diet before birth could affect her child's cancer risk

11 June 2015

Researchers have discovered that a mother’s diet around the time of conception could permanently influence her child’s genes.


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study followed rural women in Gambia where the seasonal climate leads to big differences in diet between the rainy and dry periods.


It revealed that a woman’s diet before pregnancy affected the expression of a particular gene, known as VTRNA2-1, in her child.  This gene is a tumour suppressor which also affects how the body responds to viral infections and so influences the child’s cancer risk and immunity.


The researchers concluded that the mother’s diet at conception and in pregnancy results in epigenetic changes via a process known as methylation which influence the expression of this particular gene.


The study’s lead researcher, Dr Matt Silver, bioinformatician at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says: “By studying babies conceived to mothers eating very different diets in the dry and rainy seasons in rural Gambia we could exploit a natural experiment. Our results show that the methylation marks that regulate how VTRNA2-1 is expressed are influenced by the season in which babies are conceived. Maternal nutrition is the most likely driver.”


Find out more about this study here.