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The unseen impact - could adult diseases be caused by food and chemicals before birth?

Alcohol, caffeine, soft boiled eggs, liver, raw meats and blue cheese: all foods pregnant women are advised to avoid because of potential risks to their unborn children. But what of foods women consume, or chemicals they come into contact with, that have a less immediate impact, where the damage might not become obvious until many years down the line? 300,000 women from across Europe are to take part in a project involving the Leeds Institute of Genetics, Health and Therapeutics (LIGHT), to look at the 'unseen' effects of food and chemicals on the unborn child.

The 15m NewGeneris study will look for changes to DNA and proteins, which are signs of an increased risk of cancer or immune disorders such as eczema or asthma in later life. Women and their newborn children from Denmark, Norway, Greece and Spain as well as 10,000 women from Bradford will be taking part. The aim of the five-year project is to come up with more effective food regulations and clear public health messages about what constitutes safe levels of chemical exposure for women during pregnancy.

Heading the research at Leeds is LIGHT acting director, Professor Chris Wild: "We know very little about how sensitive the child is to the environment when it's in the womb and shortly after birth. A review of existing research, recently highlighted in the Guardian, confirmed that there is some evidence that the young are more sensitive than adults, so what might be a safe level of exposure for an adult might not be for a child. However, no conclusive link has yet been made and we hope that this study will finally do that."

The women will have blood and urine samples taken and fill in questionnaires on their diet, lifestyle and habits and the environment in which they live. Following the birth, a blood sample will also be taken from the placenta to determine which chemicals have crossed from the mother to the child.

The target toxic chemicals include those
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Contact: Hannah Love
h.e.b.love@leeds.ac.uk
44-113-343-4100
University of Leeds
28-Mar-2006


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