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Test to detect preeclampsia earlier in pregnancy in development at Texas A&M

School of Pharmacy lab secures biomarker patent in quest for better detection and treatment of the dangerous pregnancy complication
ultrasound technician wearing an Aggie ring performs a prenatal ultrasound

A Texas A&M University Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy research lab has secured a patent for epigenetic and microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers associated with the pregnancy complication preeclampsia.

Mahua Choudhury, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, leads the lab, which aims to find therapeutic miRNA-based medicine and envisions the development for a quick, non-invasive test that can detect preeclampsia in early pregnancy. This will allow for prompt treatment and improved outcomes for mothers and their babies.

“We’re currently doing several translational research studies so that we can detect and treat preeclampsia in expectant mothers during the first trimester before any symptoms even arise,” Choudhury said.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and protein in urine during or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“It is too late to do anything at this stage. It can lead to premature birth or even more critical, the death of the baby or the mother. Preeclampsia also has future consequences in women like contributing to heart diseases. Early detection and treatment are therefore crucial to prevent severe consequences,” Choudhury said.

Recent evidence indicated that preeclampsia almost doubled for women who had COVID-19 while pregnant, making it even more critical to predict and treat preeclampsia—a need that is currently unmet.

Choudhury is an epigenetic expert and has been working on other metabolic diseases, but this project has remained dear to her for more than a decade.

“Being pregnant and giving birth to a child is a wonderful thing, but it can be tainted with a disease like preeclampsia. As a woman scientist, if I can do anything to help these women to make their journey easier and happier, it can be one of the biggest impacts I can make on this earth,” she said.  Choudhury’s lab is also now collaborating with several national and international groups.

An epigenetic biomarker is a type of detectable marker that can provide information about changes occurring in the way that genes might be expressed without altering the DNA code. By measuring the presence or absence of these changes, researchers can identify patterns that are associated with certain diseases—in this case, preeclampsia.

“I am quite excited to be part of Dr. Choudhury’s mission to help women. Essentially, we are looking for something that happens before genetic change,” said Zehuan Ding, PhD, a postdoctoral trainee in the lab.

Choudhury is set to receive the 2023 Patent and Chancellor’s Innovation Award for her work, “Methods of Predicting Preeclampsia Using Biomarkers,” at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on April 14, 2023. This research has been funded by several internal and external funding sources including Bill and Melinda Gates Grant Challenge Award, Discovery Foundation, National Science Foundation, Texas A&M Health Science Center Novel, High-impact Research Projects and many more.

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