August 1, 2014
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Sexual Health

 Health Home >> Sexual Health >> Health news 

Battle in the womb causes fatal pregnancy disease: Study

Written by: Sheena Goodyear, QMI Agency
Oct. 11, 2011

New research out of Yale University suggests a deadly pregnancy disease stems from a battle in the womb between a father's biological goal to make the biggest, healthiest baby possible, and the mother's need to survive giving birth.

Preeclampsia, the most common killer of pregnant women worldwide, is a disease that only occurs during pregnancy or the postpartum period. It's characterized by a spike in blood pressure.

At its most mild, it will leave a woman bedridden with swollen ankles.

"When it gets out of control it can go into seizures and kill a woman," said Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, lead author of the study.

Ad
A new study, published in the journal Reproductive Sciences, posits an explanation for preeclampsia, and could lead to earlier detection and possible treatment.

Kliman found preeclampsia is caused by the conflicting goals of producing a baby big enough to thrive, but small enough to pass through the birth canal.

The fight is between the mother's uterus and the placenta, which is made up of cells called trophoblasts from the father.

During a regular pregnancy, trophoblasts invade the mother's tissues and destroy the walls of her blood vessels in order to get more blood flowing to the placenta, which results in a bigger baby.

But, the study notes, the mother has "soldiers" of her own, in the form of lymphocytes, which seek out and kill the invading trophoblasts.

Scientists already knew this much. What they didn't know is how the trophoblasts manage to get the job done despite being a foreign invader in the woman's body.

"If you and I were going to rob a bank, for example, we might blow up a grocery store two blocks away," said Kliman. "The police are in the grocery store and while they're busy in the grocery store, you're going to rob the bank. That's what's called a diversion."

The trophoblasts create a diversion by secreting a protein called PP13 into the mother's blood. Her immune system reacts, creating a mass of inflammation and dead cells called necrosis, which distracts the lymphocytes long enough for the trophoblasts to get blood to the placenta.

This finding surprised Kliman.

"In a normal pregnancy, there are whole big areas of dead maternal cells. I mean, that's crazy," he said. "What was it Sherlock Holmes said? When every explanation is already gone, you have to go to absurd ones? Well the absurd explanation is in a normal pregnancy there are massive areas of destruction."

When, for whatever reason, the mother's body doesn't fall for the diversion, preeclampsia can occur.

"We realized that these zones of necrosis are likely occupying the mother's soldiers while the invasive trophoblasts sneak into her arteries, leading to more blood flow to the placenta and a bigger baby," said Kliman. "We believe that maintaining this balance could be the key to a healthy pregnancy free from preeclampsia."

The findings mean doctors can detect women who are at risk of developing preeclampsia very early in the pregnancy. If PP13 levels are low at seven to eight weeks, a woman is likely to develop the disease at 23 weeks.

From there, doctors can keep a close eye on at-risk patients and help them with techniques to lower blood pressure and get blood flowing to the placenta.

"I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty magical."

View more news


Did you find what you were looking for on our website? Please let us know.

The contents of this site are for informational purposes only and are meant to be discussed with your physician or other qualified health care professional before being acted on. Never disregard any advice given to you by your doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always seek the advice of a physician or other licensed health care professional regarding any questions you have about your medical condition(s) and treatment(s). This site is not a substitute for medical advice.

© 1996 - 2014 MediResource Inc. - MediResource reaches millions of Canadians each year.