Preeclampsia is a potentially dangerous complication facing pregnant women and a major cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide. The disorder is characterized by newly acquired high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy. Despite decades of research, the ability of doctors to predict preeclampsia has not improved significantly.

Brandie DePaoli Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, hopes to help clinicians get ahead of the illness through a new study to identify biomarkers of the disease. In the three-year, $181,507 study funded by The Discovery Foundation, Taylor will lead a research team that will study subtypes of preeclampsia with different severity.

Thorough identifying biomarkers in maternal blood during the first trimester of pregnancy, researchers hope to better understand differences in immunological responses between women who will develop early-onset and late-onset preeclampsia as compared to women who go on to have healthy pregnancies. This information will be used for new studies focused on predicting specific subtypes of the disease.

“Preeclampsia is a complex disease that may have several subtypes with different causes, which complicates prediction and clinical management efforts,” Taylor said. “To better understand the role of cellular stress and immunity in developing preeclampsia subtypes, we will examine biomarkers in maternal blood that are present prior to disease onset.”

Preeclampsia is a major public health burden and can lead potentially to fatal damage to a woman’s kidney, liver and brain. To date, the only treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the placenta. Delivery is often premature leading to health risk for the baby and increasing the possibility of infant mortality. Health issues for the mother extend beyond pregnancy with an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease later in life.

“There is a critical need to identify biomarkers to better understand preeclampsia subtypes for improved prediction and clinical management,” Taylor said. “Given the immediate and long-term risks, advances in preeclampsia research will ultimately lead to healthier moms, babies and adults.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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