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Heart drugs could cut pregnancy risks

Pregnant women could benefit from a pioneering trial that will test whether heart disease drugs can be used to treat pre-eclampsia.

Researchers are investigating if a class of drugs - known as statins - can prevent the potentially fatal condition.

Pre-eclamspia affects up to eight per cent of pregnant women in the UK.

Statins

The world’s first trial on statins in pregnancy follows on from research showing that statins, which are prescribed to lower heart disease, could also help to decrease amounts of two proteins linked to inducing pre-eclampsia.

Statins act on an enzyme that suppresses the production of these proteins - soluble FLt-1 and soluble endoglin.

Trial

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 Asif AhmedGustav Born Professor of Vascular Biology

The trial, funded by the Medical Research Council and led by the University of Edinburgh, will involve pregnant women in the UK diagnosed with very early-onset pre-eclampsia.

This occurs in women who are less than 32 weeks pregnant.

The trial will also involve researchers from the University of Birmingham, University College London Hospital and Queen Mary, University of London.

Previous research

The study 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.

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is responsible for around four million premature births worldwide each year.

It 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.

Early onset pre-eclampsia

Early onset pre-eclampsia affects one in 100 expectant mothers in Britain.

The condition carries greater risk than pre-eclampsia occurring later in the pregnancy because the only treatment is to deliver babies prematurely.

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.

Professor Asif AhmedGustav Born Professor of Vascular Biology

Professor Ahmed 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.

The study is known as StAmP - statins to ameliorate early onset pre-eclampsia.

The design of the StAmP study means that it should provide important evidence on whether statins, which are already widely used in other conditions, could be exploited even further. Pre-eclampsia is a major problem area in women's health, so it would be a key step forward if this trial provides a positive outcome

Professor Max ParmarDirector of the Medical Research Council's Clinical Trials Unit