Preeclampsia in pregnancy hope for cure

An international collaboration led by the Translational Obstetrics Group (TOG) has discovered a treatment that could save many of the 60,000 lives lost each year to preeclampsia.


Preeclampsia can strike unsuspecting mothers at any time during pregnancy. It occurs when the preeclamptic placenta releases toxins that spread throughout the mother’s circulation. These toxins damage blood vessels and injure major organs including the liver, kidneys, brain (causing fits), lungs and the blood clotting system.

Currently, there is no treatment for preeclampsia other than to deliver the baby. When preeclampsia strikes at a preterm stage in pregnancy (less than 37 weeks gestation), doctors may be forced to deliver the baby early to save the mother’s life. Prematurity puts babies at risk of death, disability and cerebral palsy.

TOG and their international collaborators have discovered the possibility that proton pump inhibitors, used by millions of people to treat gastric reflux and indigestion, could be used to treat preeclampsia.

Dr Natalie Hannan, one of TOG’s Research Fellows, is the senior author of the study, the findings of which have just been published in the prestigious international journal Hypertension.

The TOG team has already set up a major clinical trial (Preeclampsia Intervention with Esomeprazole – PIE) based at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. The team is collaborating with the local South African investigator, Dr Cathy Cluver. The trial will test whether the proton pump inhibitor esomeprazole (or Nexium) can be used to treat women diagnosed with preeclampsia very early in pregnancy.

The PIE trial is in its final stages with outcomes expected this year. Further trials in Australia are also planned.

TOG is part of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the University of Melbourne based at Mercy Hospital for Women.

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Minh Nguyen

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