Scientists probe link between caffeine consumption and childhood cancer

January 26th, 2009 - 12:10 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 26 (IANS) Researchers are looking at whether consuming caffeine during pregnancy might affect the unborn baby’s risk of developing leukaemia in childhood.Marcus Cooke of University of Leicester, who leads the study, sees it as an opportunity to determine the sources of chromosomal alterations during pregnancy, with the ultimate aim of reducing the risk of childhood leukaemias.

Their research will involve working with a group of 1,340 pregnant women. After birth, a blood sample is routinely taken from each newborn baby’s heel. It is these samples that will then be tested for DNA changes. By comparing any DNA changes to the levels of caffeine the mother consumed, the team will try to find out if the two are linked.

Leukaemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and white blood cells. It can affect people of all ages and around 7,000 cases are diagnosed each year in Britain. While it is the commonest type of childhood cancer, accounting for 35 percent of cases, it is still rare.

Only one out of 10 of leukaemia patients are children, accounting for 500 child diagnoses a year in Britain.

“We want to find out whether consuming caffeine could lead to the sort of DNA changes in the baby that are linked to risk of leukaemia,” said Cooke. “This is an important area of research because it is vital that mothers are given the best advice possible.”

While childhood leukaemia could be initiated by DNA alterations in the unborn child, it is thought that leukaemia would only develop if there was another secondary trigger.

There is currently no single proven cause of childhood leukaemia, though exposure to radiation and/or a rare response to a common infection are thought likely to play a part, said a University of Leicester release.

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