Breakthrough treatment for pre-eclampsia could save thousands

A drug commonly used to treat reflux has the potential to stop the deadly pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia and save many thousands of lives each year, an Australian study has found.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia involves the release of dangerous toxins from the placenta into the expectant mother’s bloodstream, which can lead to organ failure and damaged blood vessels.

Around 76,000 women and 500,000 babies die each year across the globe as a result of pre-eclampsia, which affects around one in 20 pregnancies.

The Pre-eclampsia Foundation describes it as “a rapidly progressive condition characterised by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine” that generally, but not always, occurs after 20 weeks gestation.

Symptoms can include swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision but some women affected report none of these.

Exciting new development

While the only treatment has been the early delivery of baby, now a team of researchers from Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital have discovered that beyond offering relief from reflux, a proton inhibitor drug could also stop the dangerous toxins.

After testing “primary human tissues and animal models” the team found proton pump inhibitors “have therapeutic potential for pre-eclampsia and other diseases where endothelial dysfunction is involved”.

The results have been published in the international medical journal Hypertension and international trials are set to begin in South Africa soon.

Lifesaving potential

Dr Natalie Hannan from Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital told the ABC the discovery was “exciting” as it has the potential to save the lives of both mothers and their babies.

“We hope that this medication will actually enable the mother to have a longer pregnancy safely, in order to get the baby better grown for a time to come out that is more safe,” Dr Hannan says.

She says mothers stand to benefit as it is hoped the medication will “keep the disease at bay”.

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