Finding a cure for pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia kills six women and hundres of babies every year in the UK. 

There is no other treatment, so sometimes babies have to be delivered very prematurely. But BHF-funded scientists at the University of Cambridge have made some discoveries in the lab that may offer hope for a future treatment.

Hope for a cure

"I've spent the last twenty years trying to understand how blood pressure is controlled and then what goes wrong with this system to cause pre-eclampsia," says Professor Robin Carrell, "In recent years, thanks to the BHF, we've had Aiwu who's been key to helping us improve our understanding."

Dr Aiwu Zhou is a BHF Senior Research Fellow and, working with Professor Carrell, he's shed light on how blood pressure is controlled by hormones called angiotensins. "We've found that angiotensins carried in the blood exist in two interchangeable forms - one more active than the other. Women with pre-eclampsia appear to have more of the active form causing raised blood pressure. Hopefully we can come up with a way to tip the balance in favour of the less active form so blood pressure can go back to normal.

Karen's story

Karen Partridge

Karen suffered from pre-eclampsia during two of her pregnancies. Fortunately, in both cases, she and the babies got through the births well.

"Twenty two years ago, when I was carrying my first child Laura, doctors realised my blood pressure was dangerously high," says Karen Partridge, aged 46. Doctors had to induce labour to deliver Laura as soon as possible - this is the only way to stop pre-eclampsia. "It was a terrifying time for everyone but fortunately the birth went well and Laura is 22 and enjoying life to the full."

Looking forward

"We were lucky but hopefully in the future Robin and Aiwu's laboratory discoveries can help lead to a treatment and possibly a cure for pre-eclampsia so no one else has to go through the same experience," says Karen. If the researchers come up with a way to treat the high blood pressure in pre-eclampsia, they may also be able to come up with something to prevent high blood pressure generally, reducing the risk of people developing heart disease.

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