WOMEN at high risk of pre-eclampsia will take part in a landmark Australian trial to test whether a common heartburn drug could prevent the potentially deadly pregnancy condition.
About one in 20 pregnant women experience pre-eclampsia, which leads to dangerously high blood pressure in the mother and can impact her kidneys, liver, brain and other organ systems.
The condition also places the baby at risk because a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia often means the woman’s baby must be delivered early to stop the condition.
University of Melbourne Professor Shaun Brennecke, who is Director of Pregnancy Research at the Royal Women’s Hospital, says the need for a safe and effective prevention treatment is urgent.
“There is currently no treatment for pre-eclampsia and the only way to stop the condition is to deliver the baby,” Prof Brennecke said.
“If a woman develops preterm pre-eclampsia it means a baby will need to be delivered early and that can result in long-term disability in the child.”
Offering some hope is heartburn medication nexium, which has shown promising laboratory results.
Nexium has been shown to block two proteins released from the placenta in abnormal amounts and associated with the development of pre-eclampsia.
A University of Sydney trial in partnership with Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital will now investigate whether the findings translate to a benefit in pregnant women.
Study chair Dr Jonathan Hyett, of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney, says the trial represents an exciting step towards prevention.
“It is very challenging to undertake trials in pregnant women so it is exciting to find a drug, which has been around for many years and shown to be safe in pregnant women, that may also influence the proteins known to be involved in pre-eclampsia,” he said.
Researchers are hoping to recruit 500 pregnant women considered at high risk to take part in the trial launched to mark World Preeclampsia Day.