January 26, 2009

Study looks for possible leukemia link

University of Leicester researchers are trying to determine whether consuming caffeine during pregnancy affects the risk of childhood leukemia.

Dr. Marcus Cooke said that while childhood leukemia could be initiated by DNA alterations in the unborn child, it is thought that leukemia would only develop if there was another secondary trigger. There is currently no single proven cause of childhood leukemia, though exposure to radiation, or a rare response to a common infection, are thought likely to play a part, Cooke said.

We want to find out whether consuming caffeine could lead to the sort of DNA changes in the baby that are linked to risk of leukemia, Cooke said in a statement.

Cooke said there are currently no convincing links between caffeine and cancer risks, but studies have found a link between alterations to DNA sometimes found in newborn babies, and an increased risk of leukemia. Caffeine has been shown to cause these kinds of changes to DNA, Cooke added.

Scientists know caffeine can pass back and forth across the placenta -- meaning the unborn baby will come in contact with caffeine consumed by the mother, Cooke said.

The study involves 1,340 pregnant women. A blood sample is routinely taken from each newborn baby's heel and tested for DNA changes. By comparing any DNA changes to the levels of caffeine the mother consumed, the team will try to find out whether the two are linked.