Dr. Marcus Cooke from the University of Leicester has begun a new study funded by the World Cancer Research Fund in the UK that will examine whether consuming caffeine during pregnancy might affect the unborn baby's risk of developing childhood leukaemia.
Leukaemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and white blood cells affects people of all ages. It is also the most common form of childhood cancer but is still rare. Only one out of every ten leukaemia patients are children.
With this new study Dr. Cooke hopes to find out if consuming caffeine could lead to the sort of DNA changes in the baby that are linked to the risk of leukaemia. Currently nobody knows the cause of childhood leukaemia. Childhood leukaemia could be the result of changes in the DNA during pregnancy. But experts believe that there may be a secondary trigger to the disease. Currently there isn't a link between caffeine and cancer risks but studies have shown that caffeine does alter the DNA, which has sometimes found in newborn babies.
Scientists know that unborn babies do come in contact with caffeine because it can pass across the placenta. Dr. Cooke and his research team are trying to determine what impact this can have on the unborn baby.
The researchers will be working with 1,340 pregnant women. A blood sample will be taken from their newborns heel's. These samples will be tested for DNA changes. The DNA changes will be compared to the levels of caffeine the mother consumed to try to determine if the two are linked.
If it is decided that the two are linked the researchers will continue with the study to find out if these babies are more likely to develop leukaemia. They will also look into other agents that the children could be exposed to that may also alter DNA. Other lifestyle and dietary data will be collected to see if there is anything else that might increase the risk.
The UK Food Standards Agency has recommended that pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg of caffeine a day – the equivalent of two mugs of coffee. Experts believe that drinking a lot of caffeine during pregnancy could lead to low birth weight.
Caffeine is a stimulant and cause increase in heart beat and blood circulation. Medical experts suggest that less than 200mg of caffeine can be used and could be safe. According to one of the estimates, those pregnant women who consume caffeine in more than 200mg quantities are prone to miscarriage and the ratio is 56 percent.