Cal Poly received $3 million in federal funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to embark on a five-year research project with the goal of preventing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and goes away after the baby is born, but often leads to diabetes for both the mother and child later in life, said kinesiology professor and principal investigator Suzanne Phelan.
“It’s a national study of national impact,” Phelan said.
To receive the grant, Phelan and her co-researchers at Cal Poly, Brown University, Oregon Health & Sciences University and William Sansum Diabetes Center in Santa Barbara held a small pilot study with 12 women. The full study will include 350 women over a five-year period.
“We’re finding women who had gestational diabetes in their first pregnancy, and we’re going to get them to lose weight and see if we can prevent them from getting diabetes during their next pregnancy,” Phelan said.
The study involves collaborating with medical practitioners from Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County who treat women with gestational diabetes and who want to have another child. The programs is set to increase their activity, reduce caloric intake and change their home and lifestyle habits, Phelan said.
The women will have up to two years to get pregnant, and the study will monitor the women and babies through pregnancy and after birth.
“The hope is that our intervention works and that we prevent gestational diabetes through this lifestyle modification program, and that that will lead to a change in the current healthcare system that starts seeing women after their first trimester of pregnancy instead of pre-conception,” Phelan said. “The idea is that a child’s health starts before pregnancy, not when (the mother is) pregnant.”
Students are involved in all aspects of the study, and the researchers are still looking for students to get involved, especially those who speak Spanish, Phelan said. About 60 students will be involved over the entire five-year study.
“Students get the opportunity to witness clinical care in a community setting, and get a patient-provider experience of what it’s like to work with patients,” Phelan said. “They can learn how to discuss sensitive topics, they increase their knowledge of clinical trials and they get a good dose of working in medicine.”