Studying the lining of the womb in recurrent pre-eclampsia

Dr Jenny Myers, Olivia Moran, Dr Peter Ruane, Professor Ed Johnstone

A quarter of women who develop pre-eclampsia early in pregnancy will go on to develop it again in future pregnancies. Our scientists are trying to find out why this is the case, by studying cells in the lining of the women. This could lead to new treatments to prevent pre-eclampsia, and so reduce the risk of stillbirth.

Start: October 2021

End: October 2023

Why do we need this research?

Pre-eclampsia affects up to 6% of pregnancies in the UK, and is diagnosed through a combination of high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Pre‑eclampsia which develops early in pregnancy can lead to slow growth of the baby and sometimes stillbirth.

However, there are currently no treatments to cure pre-eclampsia, and in severe cases, the only option is to deliver the baby prematurely. We need to understand pre-eclampsia better in order to develop new ways to treat it and reduce the risk of stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

Among women who develop pre-eclampsia very early in pregnancy, around 1 in 4 will develop the condition again in future pregnancies. Previous research has suggested that a possible explanation for this recurrent problem could be in the lining of the womb.

During early pregnancy, the lining of the womb matures in preparation for the embryo. In the lining of the womb there are cells called ‘stromal cells’ which support the function of the womb. These cells are believed to be important in the maturation of the womb lining. Our researchers think that these stromal cells could also be crucial in cases of recurrent pre-eclampsia.

In this project, researchers funded by Tommy’s will study in detail the stromal cells found in the lining of the womb. They will isolate stromal cells from womb samples donated by women with a previous history of pre-eclampsia, as well as women who have never been pregnant, to see if there are any differences between them. The team will also study how these cells communicate with immune cells, which are also found in the lining of the womb. 

What difference will this project make?

The team hope that their research could help us to better understand how pre-eclampsia develops, and why some women experience it repeatedly. This could lead to new ways to prevent the development of pre-eclampsia, and so reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and stillbirth.

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