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Maternal obesity increases cancer risk in mouse offspring

The offspring of obese mouse mothers have a higher risk of liver cancer in old age, according to a study. These results are a warning signal and a call to action, wrote the University of Geneva in a press release on Tuesday. However, it is not yet clear whether the results can be transferred to humans.

To investigate the effects of severe maternal obesity on their offspring, researchers from the University of Geneva and the University Hospital of Geneva studied two groups of female mice: The first was fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, a type of junk food, until they became obese. The second, the control group, was fed a normal diet. All the offspring were also fed a normal diet.

At the age of 20 weeks, which corresponds to adulthood in humans, the researchers were unable to detect any significant differences between the two groups of mice, as the study published in the journal "JHEP Reports" shows. However, at the age of 40 weeks, the health of the liver in the first group began to deteriorate. "All parameters of liver disease - fat deposits, fibrosis and inflammation - were significantly increased in the offspring of obese mothers. And these are the main risk factors for liver cancer in humans," explained Beat Moeckli, first author of the study, in the press release.

Changed intestinal flora

To test whether the mice actually have an increased risk of liver cancer, the researchers injected the young animals with a carcinogenic substance. As a result, 80 percent of the offspring of the overweight mice developed cancer - in the control group it was only 20 percent.

The scientists identified the intestinal flora, the so-called microbiome, which is transferred from mother to child at birth, as the reason for this. "Obesity therefore changes the composition and diversity of the maternal microbiome, which is passed on to the next generation and persists throughout life," said Moeckli.

The good news: normalizing the intestinal flora also normalized the risk of cancer in the mice. In humans, such normalization is possible through the use of probiotics, for example. "Having shown the importance of the microbiome is a first step towards new therapies," said Moeckli.


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