Scientists to study possible link between pregnancy caffeine and childhood leukaemia

In collaboration with the Press Association

British scientists are to carry out a study into caffeine consumption during pregnancy and a possible increased risk of childhood leukaemia.

Cancer Research UK notes that this idea has been assessed before in two small studies, which have not provided convincing support for it.

The new study will be conducted at the University of Leicester and funded by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) UK.

Lead researcher Dr Marcus Cooke hopes to shed light on the sources of genetic alterations during pregnancy and believes the findings could help to reduce the risk of childhood leukaemia.

"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 leukaemia," he explained.

"This is an important area of research because it is vital that mothers are given the best advice possible."

Around 500 children are diagnosed with leukaemia every year in the UK, representing one tenth of all leukaemia patients.

Some experts believe that, while childhood leukaemia could start to develop as a result of DNA alterations in the unborn child, a secondary trigger may be necessary for the disease to develop.

Previous small studies have suggested caffeine may act as a trigger, as it has been shown to cause alterations in DNA and can pass across the placenta. However, researchers are yet to provide convincing evidence.

The University of Leicester team will therefore carry out a study involving 1,340 pregnant women, who will permit researchers to take blood samples from their babies after birth.

These blood samples will be analysed for any DNA changes and the researchers will then see if there is a link between the level of DNA changes and the amount of caffeine consumed by the mother during pregnancy.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, commented: "There is little evidence to suggest that mums could increase their children's risk of leukaemia by drinking coffee while pregnant. This idea has been based on two very small studies, whose results could have been down to chance.

"The exact causes of childhood leukaemia are not fully known. Exposure to radiation before children are born or in early life is an established risk factor and many studies have found evidence for a link between infection and childhood leukaemia - but exactly how infection affects a child's risk of developing the disease still remains unclear."