In a significant breakthrough, Canadian researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have made groundbreaking progress towards identifying the root cause and potential therapy for preeclampsia, which so far has no cure.
The pregnancy complication affects up to eight per cent of pregnancies globally and is the leading cause of maternal and foetal mortality due to premature delivery, complications with the placenta and lack of oxygen.
The team from Western and Brown Universities identified a toxic protein, cis P-tau, in the blood and placenta of preeclampsia patients.
According to the study published in Nature Communications, cis P-tau is a central circulating driver of preeclampsia — a “troublemaker” that plays a major role in causing the deadly complication.
“The root cause of preeclampsia has (so far) remained unknown, and without a known cause there has been no cure. Preterm delivery is the only life-saving measure,” said Dr Kun Ping Lu, Professor of biochemistry and oncology at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western.
“Our study identifies cis P-tau as a crucial culprit and biomarker for preeclampsia. It can be used for early diagnosis of the complication and is a crucial therapeutic target,” added Dr Surendra Sharma, associated with Brown University.
In 2016, Sharma, a leading preeclampsia researcher, and his team had identified that preeclampsia and diseases like Alzheimer’s had similar root causes related to protein issues. The new research builds on that finding.
Until now, cis P-tau was mainly associated with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and stroke. This association was discovered by Lu and Zhou in 2015 as a result of their decades of research on the role of tau protein in cancer and Alzheimer’s.
An antibody developed by the researchers in 2012, and currently undergoing trials to treat traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s, may help diagnose and treat preeclampsia, they said, adding trials of the antibody in mouse models showed astonishing results.
“In this study, we found the cis P-tau antibody efficiently depleted the toxic protein in the blood and placenta, and corrected all features associated with preeclampsia in mice. Clinical features of preeclampsia, like elevated blood pressure, excessive protein in urine and foetal growth restriction, among others, were eliminated and pregnancy was normal,” said Sharma.
Recent research has also thrown light on preeclampsia’s long-term impacts and possible links to brain health.
“Preeclampsia presents immediate dangers to both the mother and foetus, but its long-term effects are less understood and still unfolding,” said Sharma.
“Research has suggested a heightened risk of dementia later in life for both mothers who have experienced preeclampsia and their children.” However, the causal link between preeclampsia and dementia is not known.
The researchers say the new study has pinpointed a potential underlying cause of the complex relationship between preeclampsia and brain health.