Discovery at U of I Will Help Doctors Predict Preeclampsia

By Heather Hubbs, KCRG-TV9

Each year 500,000 pregnant women in the U.S. develop pre-eclampsia. It’s a cardiovascular disease that can cause high blood pressure among other complications and can lead to liver failure, heart disease, and even death. A team of researchers from the University of Iowa have made a discovery that will help diagnose the disease and could one day prevent it.

They discovered that women with pre-eclampsia have highly elevated levels of copeptin. This discovery will allow doctors to test for that biomarker and determine if a woman is at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia as early as the 6th week of pregnancy. That’s 2-3 months before any symptoms develop.

Until now there was no good way to diagnose pre-eclampsia. Doctors don’t know what causes it therefore they can’t prevent it. The only way to cure it is through birth, which often happens prematurely putting the mom and baby at risk. The discovery of this biomarker could lead to even more breakthroughs.

”This opens the door for understanding the root cause of pre-eclampsia and if we can understand the root cause we may be able to prevent and or develop new drugs to treat pre-eclampsia,” said Justin Grobe, Asst. Professor of Pharmacology, U of I.

The biomarker discovery comes after 2 years of research. But researchers say it would have taken much longer if they hadn’t been able to get samples from the Maternal Fetal Tissue Bank at the U of I. The bank keeps samples of things like blood, tissue, and urine that pregnant women, who agree to take part in the study, give during their routine visits.

”It’s a really great gift these women are doing because it doesn’t directly benefit them, but these women that have contributed just at the University here in giving us their clinical information and samples have really contributed to the health of women worldwide during pregnancy,“ said Donna Santillan, Research Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U of I.

Dr. Santillan who runs the Maternal Fetal Tissue Bank says taking part in the study requires no extra visits or needle sticks, they just take what’s left from samples the women already have to give during pregnancy. The samples have collected have aided 25 different research projects at the U of I.

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