Trends in reproductive medicine: From conception to birth

February 03, 2015

The journal Trends in Molecular Medicine (TMM) reviews the latest advances in reproductive medicine--from mitochondrial replacement therapy to the infant microbiome--with a special issue on "Nurturing the Next Generation," published February 3, 2015.

"There is a profound shift underway in our understanding of how the environment and modern technologies are affecting the next generation at the molecular level," says TMM Editor Christopher Pettigrew. "In this special issue, we hope to promote constructive discussion about how new advances are challenging many of the basic tenets of reproduction."

Fetal genetic disorders increasingly diagnosed with sample of mother's blood

The discovery that fetal DNA and RNA are present in the plasma of pregnant women has ushered in a new era of non-invasive prenatal testing for single-gene genetic disorders. Ada Wong and Dennis Lo of The Chinese University of Hong Kong review the latest developments of this technology, which can now identify more complex chromosomal abnormalities. "With further advances and reduction in costs, it is possible that fetal profiling might eventually become routine clinical tests," the authors write. "It is likely these analyses will play an increasingly important role in the future practice of prenatal medicine."

Social influences continue to deter breastfeeding in Western nations

Amy Brown, an associate professor of public health and policy studies at Swansea University, discusses the pressure that many Western nations place on new mothers to use formula milk despite the well-established benefits of breastfeeding. "The impact of this upon new mothers is both direct and generalized," Brown writes. "More overtly, the reactions a new mother faces from strangers and even family members when she breastfeeds her infant can be demoralizing and threatening. Although breastfeeding might be supported by health policy, and a woman breastfeeding in public is protected by law, reactions to public breastfeeding are a major barrier."

Exploring the link between advancing parental age and autism

Another influence of modern Western society on reproduction is that of increasing parental age (of both the father and the mother, separately and in combination), which has been causatively linked to the rise of autism spectrum disorders. Brian Lee, an assistant professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health, and John McGrath, a professor of epidemiology and developmental neurobiology at the Queensland Brain Institute, review the literature on this correlation and conclude that a modest magnitude of risk does exist. However, the authors note that, while different mechanisms underlie this risk for older fathers and older mothers, the exact molecular details are still to be determined.

Maternal habits and the long-term consequences on offspring's health

A review led by University of Nottingham developmental physiologist Michael Symonds examines the long-term effects a mother's diet and lifestyle during pregnancy has on her offspring, particularly its influence on childhood obesity and metabolic disease. While many intervention programs exist to help pregnant women cut out smoking, keep weight down, and increase sleep--all factors that affect a child's later-life risk of obesity and other illnesses--the lack of longer-term data makes follow-up trials necessary to fully support or refute their role on the developmental origins of health.
Trends in Molecular Medicine (TMM), published by Cell Press, is a monthly review journal that facilitates communication between groups of highly trained professionals with distinct backgrounds and skills, whose common goals are to understand and explain the molecular basis of disease with a view to new clinical practice. For more information, please visit To receive media alerts for TMM or other Cell Press journals, please contact

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