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P.S. Can Stories Really Advance Research?

Last Updated on Sunday, August 04, 2013

By Eleni Z. Tsigas, Executive Director

Margaret Meade once said, "Never doubt what a small committed group of citizens can do to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has." 

At the Preeclampsia Foundation, we like to say, "Never doubt what a large cohort of preeclampsia survivors can do to catalyze research. Indeed, it is the only thing that will."

Welcome to our Special Research Edition of Expectations.

I've heard thousands of stories with poor outcomes that started with "If only I had known" or "If only I had known and pushed harder to be taken seriously." What women wanted to know were the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia. With that information, they would have immediately responded to that unrelenting headache or the searing pain running up over the shoulder. They would have known to push back, if their complaints weren't taken seriously, with a request to be have their blood pressure checked, be seen by an expert, or have blood drawn for analysis.

After so many stories, we initiated research to quantify what we already knew anecdotally regarding the need for patient education. Our own 2008 "Lack of Preeclampsia Awareness Study" and studies performed by Dr. Whitney You and published in 2011 in the American Journal of the Obstetrics & Gynecology, confirmed our suspicion that not enough women are informed about preeclampsia, and even if they are informed, comprehension is poor. 

Thus began an active part of our mission: patient education. Those outcomes are now being realized as the professional organization that board certifies the majority of our nation's obstetricians will be formally recommending patient education as a regular part of prenatal and postpartum care. Our Illustrated Preeclampsia Symptoms Tear Pad has been included in a California state-wide collaborative, CMQCC, that is intended to reduce maternal deaths.

Improving patient education tools and methods is just one way that women affected by preeclampsia -- our "cohort" -- identified a problem and then worked to change it. (Our work in patient education is definitely not done, but enormous progress has been realized.) 

But can preeclampsia survivors advance medical research? Can we push scientists more quickly to a prevention, a cure, or an intervention (other than delivering the baby)?
Before the summer is out, we will be launching The Preeclampsia Registry, a living data source of patients and family members, to accelerate research.

There is plenty of precedent that citizen scientists, armed with their own "stories" and DNA, have successfully isolated genes responsible for their disease, or identified useful therapies. We, too, can catalyze research, equip researchers with novel hypotheses and a cohort -- a cohort not just willing, but impatient to see progress and to use their own cases as the enabling data.

What's ahead for The Preeclampsia Registry?

Approximately 100 "beta users" have already enrolled in the registry to help us test the technology. We have already secured approval from our Institutional Review Board. Before the summer is over, the registry will be open for public enrollment, including international registrants. Participants will include those directly affected and their female relatives who will enter self-reported information, upload medical records, and, in Phase 2 (planned for next year), biological samples such as DNA.

Researchers will be able to do studies over long periods of time, across geographical boundaries, and within various demographic groups.

How can you participate?

1. Check back often at www.PreeclampsiaRegistry.org for the upcoming announcement about the Registry's public launch. 
2. Participate in our soon to be announced Patient Advisory Council, a diverse group of affected individuals who will influence research questions. 
3. Give a gift to the Preeclampsia Foundation and, if you wish, earmark it for The Preeclampsia Registry.

I'm looking forward to joining Registry participants as we add our collective experiences to the scientific body of knowledge that will make a difference for future mothers and their babies!
 

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