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WA discovery cuts risks to mothers and babies

WA scientists at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research have made a groundbreaking discovery using a fertility drug that could treat a life-threatening condition affecting thousands of pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. The Institute says it could offer a new, safer way to manage maternal high blood pressure, a condition which can lead to pre-eclampsia and force doctors to deliver babies too soon.

Pre-eclampsia affects up to 10 per cent of all pregnancies, typically causing high blood pressure, protein in the urine and severe fluid retention. Up to one in 50 cases are so severe they threaten the lives of the mother and her unborn child. Drugs normally used to reduce blood pressure are often too dangerous to give in pregnancy because they can be toxic to the foetus, so doctors have no option but to induce the baby or perform an emergency caesarean, increasing the risk of health problems.

Ruth Ganss, head of the Institute’s Vascular Biology and Stromal Targeting Laboratory, said a drug used to treat infertility in women and diabetes showed promise as a way of relaxing blood vessels in pregnant women with high blood pressure. The finding came after researchers uncovered a regulator known as RGS5 that controls how blood vessels expand and constrict.

“It’s normal for pregnant women to have a higher blood flow, therefore their blood vessels need to relax and expand to meet the baby’s demands,” Professor Ganss said. “But when the vessels stay constricted and the mother experiences hypertension, the mother and the placenta can’t provide enough nutrients for the foetus.” She said the drug still had to undergo clinical trials but the research found that some women had a hidden defect linked to a higher risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.

 Source: The West Australian