Studying the lining of the womb in recurrent pre-eclampsia

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 womb. This could lead to new treatments to prevent pre-eclampsia, and so reduce the risk of stillbirth.
  • Author's list

    Professor Jenny Myers, Dr Olivia Moran, Dr Peter Ruane

    Start date: January 2021
    End date: December 2023

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

Severe pre-eclampsia can be dangerous for both mother and baby and is a major cause of stillbirth. Among women who develop severe pre-eclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy – known as severe early-onset pre-eclampsia – 1 in 4 develop the condition again in future pregnancies. As pre-eclampsia can only be cured completely by delivering the baby and the placenta, it is important to find out more about why severe early-onset pre-eclampsia returns a second time in so many women. We could then use this information to develop new treatments that could prevent these women experiencing pre-eclampsia in the future. 

What’s happening in this project?

During early pregnancy, the lining of the womb matures in preparation for the embryo. Cells called ‘stromal cells’ that are present in the womb lining are believed to be important in this process. Our researchers think that abnormalities in these stromal cells could be involved in cases of recurrent pre-eclampsia.

In this project, Tommy’s researchers will explore this further, by looking for differences between stromal cells taken from the womb lining of women who previously developed pre-eclampsia and stromal cells from women who have either had healthy pregnancies or who have never been pregnant. The team will also study how these cells communicate with immune cells that move into the lining of the womb during early pregnancy, to see if there is any link between the immune system and the presence of abnormal cells in women with recurrent pre-eclampsia. They will then investigate whether drugs that target the immune system can effectively prepare the lining of the womb for future pregnancy.

What difference will this project make?

This project should tell us whether it is possible to detect problems with the lining of the womb before pregnancy occurs. If this was the case, doctors would be able to identify the women who are at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia in a subsequent pregnancy. We hope that this work will lead to the development of new treatments for these women, so that we can reduce the chances of them experiencing pregnancy complications.