Say “matrix” and visions of a kick-boxing, black-clad Keanu Reeves may come to mind. No, this is not a movie review.

Every day, a small army of Harvard Medical School researchers reports to The Life Sci­ences Building in Boston’s Longwood Medi­cal Area. It’s new, ultra high-tech. It towers over its neighboring hospitals and research facilities and, with its clean lines, giant glass panels and sweeping marble stairway, would be a set designer’s dream for another sequel to “The Matrix”. The men and women who spend so much of their lives in this futuristic workplace are pulmonologists, oncologists, nephrologists, neurologists; they are natives of France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, India, China, Japan, Turkey, and the U.S. They study and work under the leadership of Dr. Raghu Kalluri, Chief of the Division of Matrix Biology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Composed of proteins and found through­out the body, the matrix serves as a platform for cells. Kalluri says just ten years ago, scien­tists believed that a cell contained all the in­formation it needed to function. Researchers have since discovered that the extracellular matrix actually tells the cells how to behave. After countless division, cells become liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells.all kinds of cells. Kalluri says the matrix supporting kidney cells, for example, tells those cells to “behave like a kidney”. Transfer them to a matrix in the brain and they’re no longer act­ing like kidney cells, but rather assuming the function of brain cells. Kalluri says as many as 50 different human diseases can be traced to defects in proteins outside the cell, which would explain in part, why the matrix has become a field of study in itself. And matrix biology has served as a powerful attraction for these graduate students and medical professionals from a range of disciplines.

New Jersey native, Scott Potenta, whose research paper had just been accepted the day we spoke, says he’s always been inter­ested in matrix proteins and their effect on cell behavior. He is studying the way blood vessels react in diseases such as cancer. Valerie LeBleu, a native of France and the first Har­vard graduate student to work at the Matrix Biology Lab, is trying to find alternatives to dialysis for treatment of Alport Syndrome, a genetic kidney disease that affects 1 in 5,000 people. LeBleu and Potenta say they appreci­ate the richness of the laboratory, which is obvious in the diversity of the workforce and the wide representation of specialties, all of which foster the sharing of knowledge and experience. Formal discussions at stations in the main laboratory, as well as informal con­versation over coffee in the break room can and do give way to new ideas, and more than a few “aha!” moments. Both of these young researchers and their colleagues made it clear to this reporter, it’s a privilege to work in this cutting-edge environment.

Their days are spent comparing graphs on a split computer screen or peering into micro­scopes deciphering cells on a slide, manipu­lating organic solutions, each with their own requirements for survival: simple refrigera­tion or having to be gingerly lowered into giant cylinders, filled with dry ice.

In the next row of lab stations, is Dr Keizo Kanasaki, a Japanese native and research fel­low in medicine. Kanasaki collaborated with Kalluri on a paper reported in the May 11, 2008 online “Nature”. They theorize that preeclampsia is actually linked to an absence of 2-ME, and that administering that pro­tein to women with the disease would be a viable treatment. Because this is a women’s disease, you might think that Kanasaki is an obstetrician. He is a nephrologist; he studies the kidney. Which brings us back to the common ground for all of these dedicated researchers…the matrix. Discoveries within that mass of protein, the scaffolding for cells throughout the human body, could yield the keys to unlocking the mystery of pre-eclampsia and, hopefully, lead to prevention.

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Last month, we posted a lengthy article titled Screening Tests for Preeclampsia. On August 14, a press release from PerkinElmer announced the launch of its new screening test for early onset preeclampsia, Preeclampsia Screen™ | T1. This month we posed questions to PerkinElmer Labs/NTD. These are the answers we received to five of the questions, which are representative of the questions you asked us.

How much will the screening test cost?

The list price of the test is $495. This will be billed to a patient's insurance, if available. If the test is not covered by a patient's insurance and the patient takes advantage of applicable payment options, they can expect to spend approximately $200 out of pocket for the test.

Will my insurance cover it?

This is uncertain, at this time, as the screening test just launched on August 1, 2013. It is our plan to submit to insurances and work with them on reimbursement for these new claims.

Will it be available everywhere in the U.S., and can any doctor or midwife order it for me?

It must be ordered by a qualified health care provider who is able to order laboratory tests and who has set up an account with PerkinElmer Labs/NTD. It is available to all qualified healthcare providers in the country.

Is it available outside the US?

Yes. Samples can be received at PerkinElmer Labs/NTD from outside the U.S., as long as they conform to all sample and shipping requirements, including any international regulations.

Will the screening test tell me when I might start getting sick, if I'm going to get PE?

The test will not tell you or your healthcare provider when you may begin having symptoms of preeclampsia. What it can tell your healthcare provider is whether or not you are at increased risk of developing early onset preeclampsia, which is preeclampsia that results in the delivery of the fetus before 34 weeks gestation.

 
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