What is pre-eclampsia?
Only pregnant women get pre-eclampsia, which affects about 5% of all pregnancies. It develops in the second half of pregnancy, often without any warning signs, and is detected when the mother is found to have high blood pressure and protein in her urine.
If left untreated, pre-eclampsia is dangerous to both mother and child. It is often associated with small babies or premature births, and in the most severe cases, it can result in a still birth. In the mother, pre-eclampsia can lead to convulsions, bleeding, and damage to the liver, and occasionally the disease can be fatal.
In countries with good ante-natal care, the death of the mother is very rare. But in countries with less well-developed ante-natal care, the number of women who die from pre-eclampsia is much higher. Worldwide, it leads to the deaths of around 40,000 women and almost 1 million babies every year.
Are genes important?
Pre-eclampsia runs in families. A woman whose mother or sister has had pre-eclampsia is at least three times more likely to develop the disease. This is why we believe that genes may contribute to the development of pre-eclampsia.
It is important to look at both the mother’s and the baby’s genes. The baby inherits genes from both parents, so in the InterPregGen study we are looking at genes from mother, father and baby.
What we hope to achieve
Once we find a gene that is connected with pre-eclampsia, we can identify in detail what that particular gene does, and find out when it is active during pregnancy. We can decide whether it is at work in the mother, the baby, or the placenta. Finding out what the gene does will help us to understand what causes pre-eclampsia. Once we understand this, we will be in a better position to prevent and treat it. The other hope is that finding pre-eclampsia genes will help to identify the women who are at the highest risk of developing this condition during pregnancy, so that we can provide additional ante-natal care for them.