The thymus is an immune organ that situates behind your upper chest bone. In healthy individuals, it functions as a harbor for the production of a kind of immune cell called the T cells. Recently, researchers have found that the thymus also plays a pivotal role during pregnancy. According to the study published in the prestigious journal Nature, the scientists discovered that a healthy functioning thymus helps to prevent the pregnant woman from miscarriage and gestational diabetes.
What is the thymus’s role in pregnancy?
Normally, the thymus produces T cells, which then migrate to the mother’s fat tissue to prevent inflammation and help control glucose levels in the body. A dysfunctional thymus that lacks a special molecule called RANK (Receptor Activator of Nuclear factor-kappa B Ligand), however, produces fewer T cells. In mouse models, the scientists discovered that a dysfunctional thymus is related to increased incidence of miscarriages and higher rates of gestational diabetes.
This discovery holds promise to new therapeutic treatments for gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes poses risks to the mother and fetus
Gestational diabetes means that a woman without prior diabetes develops high blood sugar levels in pregnancy, which could either return to normal or remain high after delivery. The high blood sugar in the pregnant woman causes harm to the mother and fetus.
With gestational diabetes, the pregnant woman may be at increased risk of:
- High blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Both are serious medical conditions that would threaten the safety of the fetus.
- Type 2 Diabetes in the future. The chances of getting type 2 diabetes when the mother gets old increases with gestational diabetes.
The fetus born to a woman with gestational diabetes may be at increased risk of:
- Excessive body weight. The high blood sugar would stimulate the fetus to grow excessively large. That would make vaginal delivery very difficult and entails a C-section.
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes. Babies born to women with gestational diabetes are more likely to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes.
- Low blood sugar shortly after delivery. After delivery, the newborn gets away from the high blood sugar but may suffer from severely low blood sugar, which may cause seizures or irreversible damages to the brain.
- Unfavorable pregnancy outcomes, such as early birth or stillbirth.
More studies to investigate the role of thymus to maintain a healthy pregnancy would potentially offer new treatments for gestational diabetes.