Southampton scientists have launched a pioneering £100,000 study that promises to shed new light on the risk of heart disease and diabetes in later life.

Researchers from the University of Southampton hope that the secrets hidden within our small blood vessels will reveal how a mother’s diet affects the chances of her unborn child developing the conditions when they are adults.

Although it is already known that it is important for a pregnant woman to have a healthy diet, the exact mechanisms controlling what happens during pregnancy on the long-termhealth of children are not well understood.

While other studies have investigated the impact of a mother’s diet on the function of large blood vessels in her offspring, this study, led by Geraldine Clough, Professor of Vascular Physiology at the University of Southampton, is breaking new ground.

By studying adult mouse offspring the researchers set out to investigate the effects of a high fat diet during a woman’s pregnancy on the networks of small blood vessels – called the microcirculation – and to establish whether these networks are susceptible to damage from a poor maternal diet.

Professor Clough said: “These small blood vessels, which are ten times smaller than a human hair, provide vital organs such as the heart, brain and muscles with important nutrients and oxygen.

“They are known to be altered in adult diseases such as obesity and diabetes but it is not known how they are influenced by maternal diet and so this work will give further insight into how an adverse high fat diet during pregnancy can increase the risk of adult disease in offspring.”

The study is being funded by the British Heart Foundation.