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How a child’s cells may affect mother’s long-term health

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Scientists are continuing to gain understanding of how cells transmitted from child to mother during pregnancy may influence a woman's health long after delivery. New research shows these microscopic traces of a child could affect a mother's risk of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. Scientific American reports:

It turns out that all pregnant women carry some fetal cells and DNA, with up to 6 percent of the free-floating DNA in the mother's blood plasma coming from the fetus. After the baby is born, those numbers plummet but some cells remain...

...Evidence is building that those fetal cells aren't just lounging around in Mom; in fact, they might be active participants in a mother's health. But as research in this new field accumulates, so too do the perplexing contradictions about these rare alien elements.

The story notes that a significant turning point in research on fetal microchimerism was a 1979 Stanford study (.pdf) that found cells with Y sex chromosomes in a pregnant woman's blood and concluded the cells were from her unborn son.

To learn more about research into how a woman's long-term health might be affected by lingering cells from her children, her mother or even her siblings, read this Stanford Medicine story from last fall.

Photo by moonsheep

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