New Gene Study Carries Hope for Dealing with Common Pregnancy Woe
Preeclampsia is a common pregnancy complication. It is the term for when the immune system of the mom starts attacking the growing placenta. This condition puts the lives of both baby and mother at risk. In fact, preeclampsia explains 15 percent of cases concerning babies delivered before they are due, also known as preterm births.
Preeclampsia and Gene Study Breakthrough
Treating this disorder is problematic, posing quite a challenge for people within the medical research community. Recent studies however, in the February edition of Placenta, a journal from the Duke and NC State universities, offer a fresh perspective. It attempts to crack the mysteries behind preeclampsia.
NC State genomics professor Jorge Piedrahita and his colleagues noted heightened gene activity in placentas of women afflicted with the disease. Piedrahita believes the identification of this early activity in the gene could be useful in determining the origins of preeclampsia and how it starts.
In one interview, Piedrahita explained that other genetic markers appear following the development of preeclampsia. If the process triggers are known, predicting the disease by looking at such genes will be improved.
Essentially, what researchers discovered was that the SIAE enzyme responsible for changing the sialic acid coat of cells was more active (also called up-regulated) in placentas of preeclamptic women. With the immune system identifying cells through recognition of specific kinds of sialic acid coats, the additional unusual enzymatic movement or activity could explain why women’s immune systems start mistaking the placenta for something foreign.
Since pinpointing this type of mechanism, it might be possible now to improve prenatal care and screening methods. Tests could be performed on parents, specifically on the gene producing the SIAE enzyme to predict disease more accurately. Furthermore, drug companies could begin developing ways to control the increased enzyme expression and boost treatment outcomes.
Piedrahita however, was quick to caution that coming up with the treatments or remedies are not going to be a cakewalk. He said the road will likely be riddled with difficulties, especially when it comes to targeting the placenta using drugs minus any ill-effects on the whole immune system of the mother.
Next on the agenda of researchers is exploring the various genetic forms taken by the SIAE enzyme, to better understand the role it plays in having preeclampsia. Piedrahita for his part plans on studying the immune cell receptors that are able to tell apart sialic acid, en route to figuring out how these proteins matter to preeclampsia development.