Despite advances in modern medicine, there remains a pressing need to close the treatment gap between male- and female-identifying patients. Specifically, understanding the many changes that happen to the body during pregnancy and the origin of maternal diseases is critical to providing the best medical care. An essential part of this picture is metabolism, which refers to the way the body breaks down everything from food to therapeutics. Recent advancements in computers and data science have allowed scientists to gather information about the entire composition of a biological sample at the same time, paving the way for ground-breaking advancements in the study of metabolism. In a recent study, a group of researchers in Beijing applied this technique to track the metabolic differences between monkeys during early, middle, and late pregnancy, with important implications for human health. 

The researchers gathered data about the body’s millions of metabolic molecules—known as metabolites—using mass spectrometry, a technique that “weighs” every molecule. They then looked for patterns in the data to narrow down the changes seen throughout pregnancy to just a few biological pathways. For example, they confirmed that one obvious change is that a pregnant individual needs to consume more food to keep up with the energy demands of a growing child. They also uncovered new information about known metabolites that may be used to communicate between tissues, such as some molecules from the uterus ending up in the skin of the scalp—but only once the placenta is done growing. 

Though not every trend in this data set was conclusive as to the “how” and “why” metabolites fluctuate, it prompts other researchers to dive deeper and answer those questions. Most importantly, the researchers analyzed metabolites that are implicated in maternal preeclampsia, diabetes, cardiac hypertrophy, and muscle and liver regeneration; this work will hopefully spur follow-up studies on these diseases that lead to better medical care for pregnant women. 

This study was led by Ng Shyh-Chang, a professor at the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Managing Correspondent: Olivia Lavidor

Press Article: Monkey Study Reveals 91 Changes in Virtually Every Body Organ During Pregnancy (Science Alert)

Original Journal Article: A multi-tissue metabolome atlas of primate pregnancy (Cell)

Image Credit: Anwic/Pixabay

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