Vascular complications in early pregnancy

Research Updates

Understanding the causes of preeclampsia

If you’re a woman with children, you’ve probably heard about preeclampsia; it's a disease of high blood pressure during pregnancy, affecting around 3 to 5 per cent of all pregnancies and is life-threatening for both mother and the unborn child. Delivery of the baby and placenta eases all of the symptoms of preeclampsia, but there are still lasting effects: mothers with a history of preeclampsia have around double the risk of heart disease later in life.

Our Vascular Immunology Group has a principal interest in understanding the causes and progression of preeclampsia. New work by Dr Bei Xu from the Vascular Immunology Group has investigated events which occur early in pregnancy, as the placenta establishes the food source for the growing embryo.

In this study, Heart Research Institute researchers examined ‘cultured cells’ – human cells grown in a lab flask – to investigate the interaction of placental cells with cells of the uterus wall, to understand better how abnormal development of the placenta might lead to preeclampsia.

The study, published in the journal Placenta, showed that early damage to the placenta from toxins and inflammation is potentially reversible, perhaps giving an approach to stave off preeclampsia.

“Natural compounds in the mother’s blood vessels and bloodstream (particularly a gas called nitric oxide) can stop damage from toxins, and also reduce inflammation in small blood vessels,” says Dr Xu. “Interestingly, this gas also helps keep the mothers blood pressure lower in pregnancy.”

The Vascular Immunology Group hopes that this discovery will lead to a potential avenue for therapies for preeclampsia.

 “Targeting these toxins may well help with blood pressure control in human pregnancy,” says Dr Xu.

Previous
Next

Related news

How to grow a human

Pregnancy is one of the most nutritionally demanding stages of life for a woman. Decisions about health and nutrition at this point can significantly affect the lifelong health of both the mother and their baby. In the end, the goal of good pregnancy nutrition is to provide adequate nutrients that will promote optimum health in both.
Read more

Will a fitness tracker help you reach your health and fitness goals?

It’s hard to deny the growing trend of wearable activity and fitness trackers. If you pay close attention to the wrist of the person next to you, chances are you’ll find they’re not just keeping track of the time, but their daily step count, energy expenditure, heart rate or sleep quality.

Read more

Dr Anna Waterhouse joins HRI as Group Leader

The HRI is pleased to welcome Dr Anna Waterhouse as Group Leader of the Cardiovascular Medical Devices Group and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney. Dr Waterhouse’s research focuses on how medical devices – such as artificial hearts, stents and bypass machines – interact with the body. Her aim is to understand the interactions of medical devices with patients’ blood, proteins and cells to develop more sophisticated and compatible materials. 

Read more