Research could help pregnant women and babies

Exciting research from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research has found new answers for pregnant women with high blood pressure, which is also a characteristic of the serious condition, preeclampsia. 

Channel 7 reporter Sam Jolly with Ruth Ganss

Professor Ruth Ganss tells Channel 7
Samantha Jolly about her research 

Preeclampsia is a problem in 5% to 10% of all pregnancies in Australia and can threaten the lives of the mother and unborn child.

There is currently no cure except delivering the baby, which can cause health problems for the child if the birth is pre-term. Most traditional medications for high blood pressure, or hypertension, are harmful for the foetus.

“Pregnant women produce more blood and fluid, and therefore their blood vessels need to relax and expand to meet the baby’s demands,” explains Professor Ruth Ganss, head of the Vascular Biology and Stromal Targeting Laboratory at the Perkins.

“When the vessels stay constricted and the mother experiences hypertension, the mother and the placenta can’t provide enough nutrients for the foetus.

“Now, our research on a regulator called RGS5 has led to a new understanding about the somewhat mysterious process which makes blood vessels constrict or relax during pregnancy,” she says.

“It also shows that that a women with no previous experience of high blood pressure can become hypertensive during pregnancy which then can cause preeclampsia.”

Professor Ganss says the research has opened the door for a potential treatment, using an existing drug which is currently being utilised to help female infertility.

The drug works to relax abnormally constricted blood vessels and allows more blood to supply the demands of the foetus. Most importantly, work in the laboratory suggests that it would not be toxic for the foetus like other blood pressure medication.

“If this medication was used for short weeks during pregnancy, this would allow women at risk to keep their blood pressure under control until they reach full term, which would have huge benefits for the child,” she says.

The drug would need to be tested in clinical trials.

The new research by Professor Ganss’s laboratory ties in with her work on cancer and the way blood vessels remodel themselves to feed tumours.

It was a national interdisciplinary collaboration with groups from Perth, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. The paper, Regulator of G protein signalling 5 is a determinant of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, has been published in the high impact factor journal Science Translational Medicine.

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