Two proteins in the blood may indicate development of preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a life-threatening complication of about 3-5% of all pregnancies and a leading cause of maternal death.  It often occurs without warning.  So this finding that appeared in the September 7 New England Journal of Medicine may be an important step in predicting if a woman will develop preeclampsia and developing a cure for preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia results in high blood pressure and protein in the urine.  It may begin with mild symptoms and can progress to dangerously high blood pressure and convulsions which may result in disability or death.  The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.  Which is fine late in a pregnancy but, if preeclampsia occurs early in pregnancy, delivery of the baby would result in premature birth and the associated complications.

In the study (led by Richard Levine, M.D., M.P.H., of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research at NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and S. Ananth Karumanchi, M.D., of the Departments of Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston) the researchers presented strong evidence that an imbalance of two proteins produced by the placenta is responsible for the symptoms of preeclampsia.

Abnormally high levels of the proteins appear to deprive the blood vessels of substances needed to keep the lining of the blood vessels healthy and the vessels die.  Subsequently, blood pressure increases and the blood vessels leach protein into the tissues and urine.

The two proteins are soluble endoglin and soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (sFlt1).  It is possible that reducing these proteins may be a treatment for preeclampsia.  However, stabilizing the mother’s blood pressure may actually deprive the fetus of blood so further information is needed.

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