A possible cure for pre-eclampsia
Published: May 13, 2008 | 7059th good news item since 2003
A condition which affects one in every ten pregnancies and is responsible for 1,000 baby deaths in Britain each year may have a genetic cause.
Scientists in the United States say they have discovered in studies with mice, a gene which may be linked with pre-eclampsia in some women.
The researchers from Harvard Medical School found mice, genetically-engineered to be deficient in an enzyme called COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), developed pre-eclampsia.
The research team say low levels of COMT are also seen in pregnant women with the condition which presents dangers for both mother and baby.
The discovery could lead in the future to a diagnostic test for the condition and possibly some form of preventative treatment.
Of all premature deliveries in the UK, pre-eclampsia accounts for 15% of them because the only way to safely deal with pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby.
It causes rapid rises in blood pressure and if the condition is untreated it can lead to convulsions, kidney failure, serious liver problems and death.
Pre-eclampsia is triggered by oxygen starvation caused by leaky blood vessels in the placenta and the researchers examined the proteins possibly involved in pre-eclampsia by affecting the level of oxygen delivered to the placenta.
Dr. Raghu Kalluri, the study leader says if a gene is responsible for pre-eclampsia in some families then it could be a useful genetic test.
COMT is an enzyme involved in the development of new blood vessels and a compound it produces called 2-methoxyoestradiol (2-ME), normally increases during the last three months of human pregnancy.
They realised that mice without any COMT also failed to produce 2-ME, but when the COMT was restored the pre-eclampsia was cured.
The researchers say as well as the potential for a genetic test to identify women at risk, this has important implications for a potential treatment.
They say it is possible to measure 2-ME in blood or urine, which could identify those who need more close monitoring, and those at risk can be treated with a supplementary pill.
Dr. Kalluri says this would give the mothers back what is missing.
A large clinical trial to look at the effect of COMT in women is now on the cards and experts say even though all women are closely monitored for signs of pre-eclampsia a good test would remove that need and would be very useful.