Heart drugs used in pre-eclampsia pregnancy trial

Pregnant woman Pre-eclampsia is responsible for about four million premature births around the world annually

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Heart disease drugs are to be trialled on a group of pregnant mothers showing early signs of the potentially fatal condition, pre-eclampsia.

Edinburgh University hopes statins could prevent the disease affecting up to 8% of pregnant women in the UK.

It kills 70,000 women a year around the world and is responsible for about four million premature births annually.

If the trial is successful, it could be a major breakthrough in creating a cheap, life-saving treatment.

Scientists at the university have found that statins, which are prescribed to lower heart disease, could also help to decrease amounts of two proteins linked to pre-eclampsia.

The drugs act on an enzyme linked to production of these proteins, soluble FLt-1 and soluble endoglin.

Liver damage

The trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, follows on from previous research that shows the enzyme involved, heme oxygenase 1, produces carbon monoxide within cells.

This could explain why female smokers, who have higher levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, have a lower risk of pre-eclampsia.

The condition causes high blood pressure, inflammation of the lining of blood vessels and can also cause kidney and liver damage.

In extreme cases, when unmanaged, it can also lead to convulsions and death.

The world's first trial on statins in pregnancy will involve 128 pregnant women in the UK diagnosed with very early-onset pre-eclampsia, which occurs in women who are less than 32 weeks pregnant.

Expectant mother

The trial, led by Edinburgh University, involves clinicians from Birmingham University, University College London Hospital and Queen Mary, London University.

Professor Asif Ahmed, who is leading the study, stressed that until the results were available, pregnant women who think they may be susceptible to pre-eclampsia should not ask their doctor to prescribe statins.

Professor Asif Ahmed, of Edinburgh University's centre for cardiovascular science, said: "This is the first stage, but we are confident that taking a scientific approach to find a way to alleviate pre-eclampsia would enable us to prolong affected pregnancies, improving the outcome for both the baby and the expectant mother.

"If successful this could help provide cheap, widely available therapy against pre-eclampsia which could help reduce maternal and infant deaths across the world."

Professor Max Parmar, director of the Medical Research Council's clinical trials unit, said: "The MRC supports trials which drive the translation of discoveries made in the lab into real benefits for public health."

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