Tiny magnetic beads that move through the arteries could lower the risk of pregnancy complications from pre-eclampsia, the life-threatening high blood pressure that can occur in expectant mothers.
The technique has been used before to treat atherosclerosis (clogged-up arteries), but now scientists in France have shown it could be repurposed to prevent women from dying in childbirth.
Pre-eclampsia affects around six percent of mothers in the UK and 15 percent in the US – including Beyonce when she was pregnant with twins Sir and Rumi – and those numbers are climbing as blood pressure rises worldwide.
The condition raises blood pressure, causes headaches and pain for the mother, increases the risk of stroke during pregnancy or childbirth, and raises the risk of the child having a stroke in later life.
As experts race to find a cure or a treatment to lower the rate of maternal mortality, they are turning to all kinds of techniques that have worked for other blood-related conditions.
Magnetic beads could be the answer to treating the dangerous pregnancy complication preeclampsia (which Beyonce suffered), study finds
Magnetic beads are a relatively new tool used in scientific studies to separate cells and microorganisms.
The tiny magnetic beads – as small as human cells – can be characterized to bind to particular molecules.
Some studies suggest pre-eclampsia is triggered by the release of a molecule from the placenta (sFlt-1), gradually damaging the blood vessels.
High levels of sFlt-1 are responsible for blood vessel wall dysfunction, contributing to high blood pressure.
It also traps two other important molecules that enhance blood vessel wall function called VEGF and PIGF.
The team, led by Dr Vassilis Tsatsaris, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cochin Hospital in Paris, was able to draw it out of the blood of women with pre-eclampsia in laboratory tests.
In doing so, they released the other crucial molecules (VEGF and PIGF) which sFlt-1 had been blocking.
They found that magnetic beads reduced sFlt-1 by 40 percent and freed up to two times more PIGF, reducing the sFlt-1/PlGF ratio by 63 percent.
Dr Tsatsaris said: ‘This was a proof of concept study and our approach aims to restore physiologic levels of angiogenic factors.
‘The reduction of sFlt-1 and the release of angiogenic factors is very significant and promising.’
Angiogenic factors is any of a group of substances present in the circulation – most of which are polypeptides which help form blood vessels.
The findings, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension, will be expanded on to see if the approach can control preeclampsia and prolong pregnancy while reducing the risks of prematurity for the baby.
As the arteries carrying blood to the baby are affected, it can cause the baby to receive inadequate blood and oxygen and fewer nutrients.
This can lead to slow growth known as fetal growth restriction, low birth weight or preterm birth – and the baby may be delivered early to save the lives of the baby and mother.
Preeclampsia is responsible for severe complications for the mother, including seizures, stroke, kidney failure and liver dysfunction.
The condition also increases a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease later in life stroke and high blood pressure.
WHAT IS PRE-ECLAMPSIA?
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure, which can be deadly for both a woman and her unborn baby if untreated.
It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure is typically normal.
The most effective treatment is an early delivery; usually via C-section.
However, this may not be best for the baby if it is early on in the pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia affects about 25,000 women in England and Wales each year, and four per cent of pregnancies in the US.
It can have no symptoms if it develops gradually rather than coming on suddenly.
A blood pressure reading above 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) on two occasions is usually the first sign.
Other symptoms may include:
- Severe headaches
- Blurred vision, temporary loss of sight or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, particularly under the ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Reduced urination
- Shortness of breath due to a build up of fluid in the lungs
Sudden weight gain, and swelling in the face and hands, are also symptoms, however, these can occur during normal pregnancies.
Pre-eclampsia is thought to begin in the placenta when its blood vessels narrow and do not react to hormones properly.
This reduces the amount of blood that flows through them.
Its underlying cause may be genetic, due to a problem with a woman’s immune system or existing blood vessel damage.
A woman is more at risk if she, or a member of her family, suffered from pre-eclampsia before.
The risk is also highest during the first pregnancy, and if a woman is over 40; obese; black; having a multiple birth, like twins; or conceived via IVF.
Existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines and kidney disease also raise the risk.
If untreated, pre-eclampsia can restrict a baby’s growth or cause it to be delivered early.
The placenta can also separate from the uterus wall, which can lead to severe bleeding.
A woman may also suffer seizures, organ damage and even heart disease as a result of untreated pre-eclampsia.
Although treatment is usually inducing labour, if it is too early to deliver the baby, medications may be prescribed to lower a woman’s blood pressure.
There is no clear advice on how to prevent pre-eclampsia, however, research suggests taking a low-dose of aspirin and calcium supplements may help.
Pregnant women should talk to their doctor before taking any drugs or supplements.
Source: Mayo Clinic