A young South Australian woman who proved a link between obesity and infertility has been honoured as the state's Young Investigator of the Year.
While there is much anecdotal evidence of a link between being overweight and struggling to conceive, Cadence Minge has shown through experiments on mice that high-fat diets actually cause damage to female eggs.
The damage means the eggs are then unable to develop into healthy embryos.
Ms Minge's research will now provide the basis for further studies on humans.
At only 25 years of age, the University of Adelaide researcher is already making her mark.
"What we found was when we fed the mice basically McDonalds, the eggs that they produced were of much lower quality, so they are a lot less likely to reach important developmental milestones in their embryonic progress," she said.
"Also we found that these embryos, the way that the cells were arranged within them was abnormal, so there were a number of defects occurring in early embryo development in obese mice that might later contribute to whether or not that mouse would be able to conceive a healthy pregnancy."
Ms Minge says the poor diets and the consequent obesity combined to affect the health of the mice's eggs.
"The obese ones were genetically identical to the ones who were not obese, so the only difference in their environment was the food that they were consuming," she said.
"So the high-fat food was bringing about a range of health complications, the same sort of things that people develop when they become obese.
"These mice weighed a lot more, they had insulin resistance, so they were starting to develop type 2 diabetes, and they also had really high blood cholesterol.
"All of these things are impacting on the way that the ovary matures the egg, and the subsequent health of that egg."
Ms Minge says the impact of obesity on the eggs is so severe that they do not develop normally, and as a result the mother is far less likely to have a healthy embryo and to fall pregnant at all.
While the experiments will not be replicated on humans, they do provide the basis for further important investigation.
"We found out that if the mice had really high blood cholesterol, that predicted whether or not they were going to be able to ovulate," she said.
"So what we might do now is look at the humans, and now that we've found this particular marker, we might see whether high blood cholesterol in humans in also predictive of whether or not they ovulate, because that is obviously a big cause of infertility for women."
She says she hopes the findings will encourage women to think about the long-term impacts of their health on their babies.
"I think there is a really positive message to come out of this research, and that is that there is something that women can do to secure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy start to life for their children, and that's to be healthy themselves," she said.
"It's not a very startling sort of discovery in that respect, because we all know that we should strive to be as healthy as we can, but hopefully this is an extra bit of motivation for women, because what they do is definitely going to have an impact on the life that their offspring will live."