Researchers have discovered a new protein that influences a woman’s chances of developing high blood sugar during pregnancy. The new protein is called HKDC1 which may be a genetic predictor for whether an expectant mother develops hyperglycemia, or excess blood sugar, during pregnancy, the researchers noted.

It appears that during pregnancy, women with less of this gene are not able to metabolise glucose as well, the study showed. Hyperglycemia is a potentially harmful environment for a growing foetus and can contribute to obesity and diabetes later in the child’s life.

“The discovery of this gene creates a path forward to better predicting a woman’s risk,” said senior author of the study Tim Reddy, assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Duke University in the US. For at least 40 years, scientists who study how the body metabolises sugar have known that there are four enzymes that kick-start the body’s process of getting energy from food.

The discovery of these four catalysts for energy production, called hexokinases, generated more research into how the body metabolises carbohydrates, and how interfering with those enzymes through medications could help manage metabolic disorders such as diabetes. This new research has now revealed that the hexokinase team actually has a fifth player HKDC1. “This swims against the past 40 years of research and what we thought we knew,” Reddy pointed out. Researchers hope the new findings could lead to a test for pregnant women that indicates their potential for developing hyperglycemia.

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