Cord blood can show fetal exposure to toxic chemicals
We are exposed to a lot of environmental pollutants everyday. And during pregnancy, the fetus is also exposed to the mother’s environment even if only indirectly. Sometimes fetal exposure can result in congenital defects. Others may only manifest later in life. It is therefore very important that the effects of exposure be detected as early as possible.
This question was addressed by this recent study at the Johns Hopkins University by looking at biomarkers in umbilical cord blood in relation to one of the most common pollutants a fetus is exposed to – cigarette smoke.
The researchers studied the differences between the proteins of two sets of newborn babies. One group of babies were born to smoking moms, the other to non-smoking moms. The blood samples were collected from the umbilical cords right after delivery and immediately processed in the lab. The researchers screened for over 200 proteins in the samples. Their results how that
- The same proteins were present in both groups; no unique proteins as a consequence of maternal smoking were detected.
- There were differences in protein levels between the 2 groups. The levels of 17 proteins were observed to be higher or lower in the smoking group. Of these 17, 14 have already been previously identified as associated with cigarette smoking even in adults. These proteins play key roles in important processes and pathways in the body, so that deviation of their levels from the normal may have major health effects.
The study demonstrated that looking at biomarkers in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies may give information on fetal exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.