Treatment breakthrough for life-threatening pregnancy condition

A team of researchers from the School of Biosciences in the Faculty of Science has been integral to an exciting medical breakthrough - a likely treatment for pre-eclampsia.

This condition affects 3-8 percent of pregnancies, and sadly kills 60,000 mothers globally, and many more babies, every year.

Pre-eclampsia is the result of destructive molecules being released from the placenta. These molecules damage blood vessels and can lead to major damage to vital organs.

No treatment currently exists, apart from delivering the baby prematurely, which can save the mother, but risk the life of the unborn child.

Professor Laura Parry and her team of researchers have been conducting lab studies on how blood vessels react to placental toxins and testing possible pharmaceutical treatments. Their work, in conjunction with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), and The Mercy Hospital for Women, has helped to identify a common diabetes drug as a potential treatment for pre-eclampsia.

The researchers found that the drug, metformin, decreases the release of toxins and repairs the damaged blood vessels. They hope the drug will therefore not only treat but also prevent this serious disorder. The drug is cheap, safe to take during pregnancy, and as it can be stored without refrigeration, there is exciting potential for its use in the third world, where most pre-eclampsia deaths occur.

These ground-breaking findings have been published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It is hoped clinical trials will start soon.