Safety and efficacy of using fish oil in pregnancy to reduce cardiometabolic risk in the offspring

Project Code: 10444553

Faculty: Liggins Institute

Department: Liggins Institute

Main Supervisor: Dr Ben Albert (balb001)

Principal investigator: Professor Wayne Cutfield

Application open date: 09 Jan 2019

Application deadline:

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


Early life factors can have long term effects on a child's risk of disease as they grow up. Maternal obesity is one of the most important of these factors, as it is very common and increases the risk of obesity in the child, as well as metabolic problems such as high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia, type 2 diabetes and heart disease as the child ages. In a previous study our group showed that consuming a fresh fish oil during pregnancy could prevent the offspring of obese rats from developing impaired glucose metabolism as they aged. However, alarmingly, we also showed that if the oil had oxidised (become rancid), then it had opposite and harmful effects.

We are now looking to find out two key things, 1) How did fish oil in pregnancy have this effect? and 2) At what level of oxidation, does fish oil have harmful effects? Answering the first question will involve detailed measures of metabolism and looking at gene expression and epigenetic regulation in key metabolic tissues. Answering the second question will have important implications for whether women should consume fish oil that they buy at retail (as it is often oxidised)

What we are looking for in a successful applicant

Applicants should have a background in a relevant biological science and a broad interest in physiology, metabolism, fetal development, cardiovascular disease/development and/or nutrition. 


We anticipate that results from this project will provide valuable insight into how a supplement in pregnancy can have long term benefits for offspring later in life. This mechanistic insight is important to help develop this novel approach to prevent obesity related disease. The second part of the study aims to determine the level of oxidation of fish oil required to cause harm in pregnancy, and relate this back to human relevant doses. We are also looking at how it causes toxic effects. This will help us to understand if there might be a risk to women who consume oxidised fish oil, and help us to to advise regulatory agencies. 

Other information

This project will utilise a range of experimental protocols including using small animal models of developmental programming of disease, metabolic assessments such as assessment of insulin sensitivity and blood pressure measurement, body compositional assessments as well as experience in the laboratory.