Tuesday, June 30, 1998 Published at 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Diabetes could be linked to baby birthweight
Low birthweight may be due to genetics
The scientists have been conducting research into whether diabetes is passed on through the genes.
For three years, they have been looking into how the genes a baby inherits can affect the production of blood sugar and their birthweight.
They wanted to know what could cause two children born from the same mother to have very different birthweights.
The outcome of their research has been published in 'Nature Genetics' and is being celebrated as a major breakthrough.
The research revealed a link between growth in the womb and genetic changes which affect the production of insulin.
Insulin controls blood sugar levels in adults. The quantity of insulin increases the more food people eat.
Previous research into baby birthweight has concentrated on what the mother eats and whether she smokes.
The new research throws the spotlight onto babies and their genetic make-up.
History of diabetes
Dr Hattersley said: "Everyone thinks baby brithweight is due to what the mother does, but we have shown that if a baby inherits a gene which affects its production of insulin, it is likely to be lighter.
"This helps us understand how babies grow in the womb."
Babies with low birthweight may go on to have problems with high blood pressure and diabetes.
The research was made possible by a partnership between the medical school and the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital. The researchers have also received funding from charities.