In a finding bringing hope to thousands of Australian couples, preventing birth defects and miscarriage could be as simple as supplementing a pregnant woman’s diet with Vitamin B3.
A landmark Australian study undertaken at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has identified a new cause of miscarriages and multiple types of congenital birth defects.
More importantly, though, it has identified a way to prevent them.
It comes in the form of niacin, otherwise known as Vitamin B3 and typically found in meats, leafy green vegetables and Vegemite.
Lead researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie says the ramifications of the double breakthrough – hailed as the biggest since folic acid was identified as a preventative of neural tube birth defects and spina bifida in babies – are likely to be “huge”.
“This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world,” she said on Thursday.
“Some 15,000 women in Australia every year have a child with a birth defect or they suffer from multiple miscarriages. This discovery brings hope to many of those women.”
Using whole exome sequencing technology, researchers looked for gene variants in families that had experienced multiple congenital malformations.
Identified was a gene mutation that caused a deficiency in a molecule critical to all living cells, known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD).
They found low levels of NAD crippled the growth of the embryo and led to miscarriage and birth defects in mice engineered with the same gene mutations as the study participants.
However the deficiency was cured through the supplementation of Vitamin B3 which is required to make NAD.
After the dietary change, both the miscarriages and birth defects were completely prevented, with all offspring born healthy.
“The science is not simple and it took 12 years but the beauty is the simplicity of the prevention, it’s cheap and its available,” said Prof Dunwoodie.
The findings are published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and the research team is confident they will translate to humans.