Faculty of Medicine

UiB-researcher wants to find out how fetus's genes control pregnancy

Many women experience symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, and abdominal pain in the first part of pregnancy. Ground-breaking research from UiB can provide new answers to how genes can trigger such symptoms.

Marc Vaudel
PRODUCTIVE: Marc Vaudel has built an impressive research portfolio. Among other things, he works with important basic research on women's pregnancies.
Paul André Sommerfeldt

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Could understanding more about early ailments in pregnancy prevent illness  later in life? This is one of the theories of Associate Professor Marc Vaudel at the Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen, Norway.

The young and productive researcher has already built up an extensive research portfolio. Central to his research are women's pregnancies and especially symptoms that occur early in pregnancy.  

– As of today, most people are familiar with nausea and vomiting. But we know very little about the more diffuse symptoms, and the processes that control them, says Vaudel.  

Connecting symptoms in data models

Vaudel’s research on the first part of pregnancy involves computer modeling where the various symptoms are put together. By combining the symptoms, specific pregnancy profiles can be created. Complications in pregnancy and the individual symptoms could provide important information about the mother's risk of, for example, cardiovascular disease or diabetes later in life.  

An important hypothesis underlying the research, is that both the mother's and the fetus’s genetic material steer the various symptoms.  

– When we combine symptoms, such as brain fog or fatigue, we can understand more of what this means and which genes control which symptoms. And we can find out whether it is genes from the mother or the child that mediate the symptoms. Normally, a large part of the pregnancy is controlled by the baby, Vaudel explains.  

– What do you hope that more knowledge about this will lead to?

– The hope is that women can be helped to manage their pregnancy better, and to avoid complications. If this basic research works, we can better understand the consequences for mother and child. It will also be possible to change how we think about the first part of the pregnancy, says Vaudel.

“It’s only in their head”

Another factor is the social aspect. It is not at all unusual for women to hear that "it's only in their head" when they report different symptoms during pregnancy, says Marc Vaudel. 

– It’s necessary to understand more of what this is. Maybe the mother needs a sick leave? We often focus on nausea and vomiting, while these other symptoms that are difficult for the mother are less recognized.

According to research, abnormal fatigue is common in every second pregnancy, while 20% experience back pain, and 15% stomach ache. About 10% have sleeping problems. 

Marc Vaudel says that the research project, which will hopefully receive the necessary funding, can be summarized in the following goals:

1) Design pregnancy profiles based on various symptoms. 

2) Understand the interaction between genes and hormones from the mother and the fetus that trigger symptoms.  

3) Better follow-up of the pregnancy and greater understanding of the link between symptoms, pregnancy complications and child/mother's health later in life. 

– We already know that pregnancy can pose a risk for later diseases. If we consider pregnancy profiles, we can provide adapted care to prevent cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, says Vaudel.