End: August 2020
Pre-eclampsia causes the deaths of 70,000 mothers and 500,000 babies around the world each year. A woman with pre-eclampsia develops high blood pressure – or hypertension – in pregnancy and also has proteinuria (protein in her urine).
At the moment, the only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby. This means babies are often born too soon and are being put at risk of short-term complications and lifelong disabilities. It is vital that we find new treatments for pre-eclampsia so that we can improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.
Blood vessels in placenta not developing properly
It is believed that pre-eclampsia happens because the blood vessels supplying the placenta do not develop properly, meaning it doesn't get enough blood. As well as affecting the baby, this can lead to problems with the mother’s blood vessels and cause her arteries to spasm.
Finding new treatments that alleviate these issues with the mother’s blood vessels could help to improve outcomes for women with pre-eclampsia.
A molecule that relaxes blood vessels
Kynurenine is a small molecule that is formed naturally when an amino acid called tryptophan is broken down in the body. In the lab, we have shown that kynurenine relaxes blood vessels that are taken from women with normal pregnancies and those with pre-eclampsia, and we now want to find out whether kynurenine or tryptophan could be used to treat other aspects of pre-eclampsia.
We are currently testing whether kynurenine reduces blood pressure in pregnant rats, and if it is safe for their babies.
If our initial experiments are successful, we would like to carry out clinical trials to test whether kynurenine is an effective treatment for women with pre-eclampsia.
By finding new treatments, we hope to reduce the number of women and babies dying as a result of pre-eclampsia, and prevent babies being born too soon.