Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Mystery of Preeclampsia Unfolds

The relationship between a pregnant mother and her growing baby is complicated and fascinating. There is still so much about pregnancy that remains a mystery, such as the development of common complications, most notably, preeclampsia. This week, researchers out of Yale University have released ground-breaking results of a recent study that could help advance the treatment and prevention of preeclampsia. The scientists observed in pregnant women an attack on the immune system by the developing baby, that if not successful can lead the mother's blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels.

"For such death and destruction to be a normal part of pregnancy is shocking," said Harvey Kliman, lead researcher behind the discovery of the strange mechanisms behind preeclampsia. Preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition, effects five percent of pregnancies and requires ending the pregnancy either through preterm labor or abortion. The cause of the condition has largely remained a mystery until now. This recent study built upon the understanding that during pregnancy the placenta, which is supplied by the father's DNA, releases cells that attack the mother's uterus in order to increase blood flow to the placenta, thereby increasing the flow of nutrients to the developing baby. The Yale researchers discovered that the mother releases white blood cells in response to the attack, at which point the placenta releases cells to act as decoys (called PP13's) for the mother's immune system to attack. The white blood cells are killed by the decoy cells. If the decoy cells are unable to distract and kill the white blood cells, the placenta never releases the extra nutrients that would come from the attack, so it sends a signal to the body to increase the blood pressure in order to compensate. It's through this cellular war that preeclampsia develops.

The findings will change the way that preeclampsia is diagnosed and treated. As it stands, preeclampsia can only be diagnosed through the detection of protein in a urine sample - at this point the condition has progressed considerably. These findings will help researchers find earlier markers for the condition and hopefully save the lives of women and babies around the world. As a side, the study also reveals an interesting warring picture between the placenta, uterus and fetus.

Have you been diagnosed with preeclampsia?

Study shows battle between mother and fetus [Yale Daily News]
Preeclampsia [PregnancyWeekly]