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Researchers Close In on Preeclampsia Cure


Discovery of biomarker for the life-threatening pregnancy condition could inform diagnosis and treatments.

A protein in cerebrospinal fluid associated with Alzheimer’s disease is also a driver of the pregnancy condition preeclampsia, and it can influence diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Researchers at Brown University and Western University in Canada identified the protein, cis P-tau, in the blood and placentas of people with preeclampsia. They also found that depleting cis P-tau prevented the development of preeclampsia in mice.

Our study identifies cis P-tau as a culprit and biomarker for preeclampsia,” says Surendra Sharma, MD, PhD, a former professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of pediatrics (research). “It can be used for early diagnosis of the complication and is a crucial therapeutic target.”

Preeclampsia affects 5 percent to 8 percent of pregnancies globally and is the leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality due to premature delivery, complications with the placenta, and lack of oxygen. The root cause of preeclampsia has so far remained unknown, Sharma says, and thus there has been no cure.

The protein cis P-tau has mainly been associated with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injuries, and stroke. In 2016, Sharma and his team at Brown identified that preeclampsia and diseases like Alzheimer’s had similar root causes related to protein issues. They also discovered that cis P-tau was significantly dysregulated in the human placenta, comparable to what happens in the brains of people affected by Alzheimer’s.

When the researchers tested an antibody that targets cis P-tau—which was developed at Western University—in mice with preeclampsia, it depleted not only the protein but also some of the effects associated with preeclampsia.

“Clinical features of preeclampsia, like elevated blood pressure, excessive protein in urine, and fetal growth restriction, among others, were eliminated and pregnancy was normal,” Sharma says.

Screening tests for the cis P-tau protein, combined with therapies involving the antibody, could change the outlook for pregnant people with preeclampsia, says Sukanta Jash, PhD, an assistant professor of molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry and of pediatrics (research). He, Sharma, and others at Brown are working to develop a lab test for preeclampsia.

“These astonishing findings bring us closer to our goal of early detection of preeclampsia and therapies to treat the condition,” Sharma says.


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