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Several years ago, Dr. Jun “Jim” Zhang, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development approached the Preeclampsia Foundation about working together on an epidemiological research study. Here was the study’s rationale:

“Preeclampsia is a syndrome of hypertension accompanied by proteinuria. It is a major pregnancy complication, associated with premature delivery, fetal growth restriction, abruptio placentae, and fetal death, as well as maternal morbidity and mortality. Although preeclampsia has been recognized for centuries, the etiology of this disorder remains unknown. Familial clustering of preeclampsia has long been identified, leading to the concept of a genetic basis for this syndrome. We propose a familial genetic study of preeclampsia. As such a study is often difficult to do, we plan to conduct a pilot study to test the feasibility, logistics and examine frequency of genetic polymorphism of certain genes in the target population.”

A total of 60 women who had preeclampsia during their first pregnancy were identified through the Preeclampsia Foundation. Women who had chronic hypertension or diabetes prior to the first pregnancy were excluded. We also tried to enroll their family members in the study. All subjects were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire and collect mouth wash samples, in order to collect the buccal cells from which DNA was extracted. Women who reported having hypertension during pregnancy were also asked to sign a medical record release form, and a copy of their medical record was obtained to confirm the diagnosis of preeclampsia.

Forty-six women returned the questionnaires and samples, resulting in a 77% participation rate – a very high response for research studies. The actual enrollment rates for the biological mother, father, mother-in-law, and father-in-law ranged between 61% and 26%; and the actual enrollment rates for full sisters, brothers-in-law, full brothers and sisters-in-law ranged between 23% and 36%.

“Thus,” concluded the abstract, “conducting a familial genetic epidemiologic study with self-administering questionnaires, mouthwash and buccal swabs is feasible. However, strategies for increasing participation rates among family members are warranted.”

We concluded the collection process in early 2006, and the resulting abstract was submitted to the International Society for Studies on Hypertension in Pregnancy and the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology annual meetings. Our Study Managers, Anne Garrett and Carrie Barrion, presented the poster at the latter meeting.

 

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On November 20-22, 2007, a meeting was held in Vancouver, British Columbia to discuss The Preeclampsia Integrated Estimate of Risk Study (PIERS) which was lead by Dr. Peter von Dadelszen. Besides being the lead investigator for the study, Dr. von Dadelszen is also a member of the Preeclampsia Foundation’s prestigious Medical Advisory Board, President of the North American Society for the Study of Hypertension in Pregnancy (NASSHP), and the President of ERIPED (Equipede Recherché Interdisciplinaire sur la Pre-Eclamspie et ses Determinants), Canada’s preeclampsia research alliance.

The goal of the 41-month PIERS study was to create a rigorous standard care protocol for the diagnosis and intervention of preeclampsia and the purpose of the meeting was to move to the next level of the PIERS study. After prospective gathering of data for seven years, and publishing the findings, the next step was to strategize about what had been learned and figure out how to get hospital administrators to adopt the findings as the standard protocol for care.

Representing the Preeclampsia Foundation in non-scientific roles during the two-day PIERS meeting were Executive Director J. Thomas Viall and Fiona Morrow, Forum Administrator and preeclampsia survivor. Morrow was involved in the PIERS study and presented the human component behind the graphs and charts by sharing her story and answering questions. Viall could tell by the eagerness of the interaction that she really got the audience’s attention and described her speech as “emotive and clear.” He said their entire presentation, “…was very powerful. Many of the scientists and medical professionals had tears in their eyes.” They were “just stricken.” Viall credits von Dadelszen with presenting and keeping the human component “front and center” to keep the researchers focused on the importance of the study. “There are moms losing babies, and husbands losing wives,” said Mr. Viall.

The researchers looked at past practice and records of how 400 women were evaluated for, and diagnosed with preeclampsia, as well as the recommendations that were made for intervention. The researchers compiled a snapshot of how, in these 400 cases, monitoring was done; what diagnostic protocols were used, and what interventions were taken. They matched those data to the outcomes of each of the women and found that five percent of the women had negative outcomes (loss of life, stroke, seizures, organ failure, etc). The next step was to develop a standard protocol for all possible cases of preeclampsia, because one cannot predict the outcomes.

Approximately 300 women participated in this phase of the initiative. When the standard protocol of care, which was very stringent, was used for these women, it produced a significant decrease in negative outcomes; which dropped from five percent to approximately seven-tenths of one percent. Viall pointed out, that unfortunately, there was no shift in neonatal outcomes with the standard care protocol. Viall thought this study might present a major opportunity for the Preeclampsia Foundation, in that the Foundation could seek grants to do similar studies in the U.S., based on the PIERS findings. The goal would be to change diagnostic and intervention protocols in the States, though Viall acknowledged that differences in the Canadian and U.S. health care systems might present certain challenges. At a minimum, he said, “the Preeclampsia Foundation could be a clarion voice for the patient by promoting its view of best practices.” We must continue to be the honest broker with no agenda other than minimizing negative outcomes…that will help to save lives.”

Acknowledging that preeclampsia is an even bigger problem in the developing world, the meeting also focused on the development of condensed recommendations for diagnosis and intervention in less developed countries. ”I had the opportunity to meet and speak to the Coordinator of Maternal and Perinatal Health activities within the Reproductive Health Division of the World Health Organization. He was quite impressed with our work and I do believe we will stay in touch and consider ways in which we can collaborate in the future,” said Viall. While delving into the underdeveloped world is “not necessarily a front line mission-issue for the Preeclampsia Foundation, the Board of Directors has begun to look at ways we might begin developing materials and guidelines to have an impact beyond North America,” said Viall.

 

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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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Blood pressure cuffs, urine dipsticks, and the scale: for decades, these simple tools have aided health care providers in the detection of preeclampsia. As a woman's pregnancy progresses, her prenatal visits come closer together, so that her weight gain, urine, and blood pressure readings can be monitored for signs of the disorder. However, this system isn't perfect. While preeclampsia most frequently occurs at term, it can sometimes strike much earlier. The disorder can sometimes progress rapidly between appointments, or the warning signs can be too subtle to trigger alarm.

But soon, clinicians may have another method for detecting preeclampsia: a reliable screening test that can spot changes in the bloodstream relatively early in pregnancy, warning healthcare providers when preeclampsia may occur before term.

In the past eight years, a substantial amount of preeclampsia research has focused on proteins found in blood known as soluble factors. The chain of events that will eventually lead to preeclampsia seems to begin quite early in pregnancy -- in fact, during the implantation of the placenta. Something disrupts the implantation process. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta intermittently runs short of oxygen, and the levels of many of these soluble factors start to vary from normal.

One of these proteins raises maternal blood pressure and inhibits Placental Growth Factor, or PlGF. Another protein, called soluble endoglin (sEng), also affects blood vessel function and is particularly elevated in HELLP syndrome. The hope is that by measuring levels of PlGF and sEng, the ratio between them, and the rate at which they are changing, clinicians can detect preeclampsia much sooner, well before symptoms appear. At that point, monitoring and management of that pregnancy would become more aggressive, in expectation that she will develop the symptoms of the disease as pregnancy continues.

Several companies in the United States and abroad have invested in these and other biomarkers to develop diagnostic or screening tests.

Miraculins Inc., a company that develops diagnostic tests from academic research and further adapts them for clinical use, first acquired the rights to an ensemble of 35 soluble factors, including endoglin, from Mount Sinai hospital. On January 7, they announced a new partnership with Inverness Medical Innovations Inc., a company that manufactures and markets such tests worldwide. "It was just a natural fit for us," said Ferran Prat, Vice President of Oncology and Women's Health for Inverness. "We're [already] launching a PlGF test in Europe, where the regulatory environment is different."


Christopher Moreau, President and CEO of Miraculins, plans to launch the first US ELIZA-based test through a few labs within the year, under a FDA exemption called an ASR, to build data while progressing towards full FDA approval. One way to apply the test would be to take a blood draw around the 24th week of pregnancy and compare it with first trimester bloodwork. This could detect changes that warn that a woman is likely to develop early preeclampsia, before 35 weeks gestation. The test could likely also be used as an instant diagnostic confirmation that a woman less than 35 weeks pregnant is suffering from preeclampsia and needs immediate treatment. The test itself only requires basic infrastructure and when the costs of the phlebotomist and shipping, if needed, are factored in, the total price will likely be $100- $200.

Preliminary serum and plasma studies indicate that the test will have very high sensitivity and specificity, which means it will capture essentially all of the women who will go on to develop early preeclampsia, plus a small number of women who will be monitored more closely but won't go on to develop the disease before 35 weeks gestation.

And there's hope for a first trimester screening test within a few years. "We're delighted to be able to move forward with developing this test," said Moreau. "Maternal and child health has been terribly neglected, and the opportunity to do something positive for women in this position, and save lives, is just tremendous."

 

 

 

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Vitamin D and Microchimerisms:

Could the sun really have something to do with preeclampsia?
"Maternal vitamin D deficiency may be an independent risk factor for preeclampsia. Vitamin D supplementation in early pregnancy should be explored for preventing preeclampsia and promoting neonatal well-being," reads a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2007. Although some of us who had our babies in, say, Portland, Oregon, where the sun rarely shines, would love to claim Vitamin D deficiency, other preeclampsia survivors sweltered under the Arizona or California sun. If you think this might be a possible therapy to explore, talk to your health care professional and check out the discussions in our Community Forum on this topic.

Micro-what?
Researchers have found that women with preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure in late pregnancy and can kill both mother and child, had five times the microchimerism of healthy women. Fetal cells, it turned out, are complex characters. A chimera is an organism with DNA from different sources, which of course is what fetal cells are, since their DNA derives from both mother and father. Read the article, The Yin-Yang Factor, published in Stanford Medicine Magazine, if you weren't already convinced that preeclampsia is a really complex disease.

Patent issued for preeclampsia diagnostic test
A press release from Miraculins announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued US Patent 7,754,495 entitled "Methods for Early Diagnosing of an Increased Risk of Preeclampsia." Previous issues of Expectations discussed this company's development of a diagnostic marker for preeclampsia.

 

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Last month, a team from the University of Alberta reported in the journal Hypertension on a method to determine that a woman is at high risk of developing preeclampsia. While this method may or may not be developed into a screening test in the future, it confirmed that changes in the metabolism and the vasculature of women who go on to develop preeclampsia can be detected at 15 weeks gestation.

Two Preeclampsia Foundation members were involved in media coverage on the topic and we are very grateful to them for bringing a human face to the stories about preeclampsia. Because of the press conference and media efforts of the University, a lot of lay press picked up the story and we are fortunate that the Foundation was mentioned in several of those stories. The research findings while seemingly exciting to a lay public are far from commercial realization and would need more validation for most governmental oversight bodies (e.g., FDA). Our message of "cautious optimism" is a responsible middle ground at this early juncture. Read more here.

Also, a new study into changes in maternal weight between pregnancies was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology by a team from the University of St. Louis Medical Center. It confirmed that women who lose weight after a preeclamptic pregnancy have a lower risk of preeclampsia in later pregnancies than women who maintain their weight or who gain weight. Losing weight may change the uterine environment and help encourage normal placental development. A link to the abstract and discussion among forum participants may be found here.

The National Institutes of Health announced that research shows taking vitamin C and E supplements early in pregnancy does not reduce the risk for hypertensive disorders and other complications during pregnancy.

An Irish study to be published in an upcoming issue of Hypertension shows that metabolites found in women's blood early in pregnancy may be able to serve as accurate predictors of preeclampsia. This is a significant breakthrough, as biomarkers for preeclampsia have not previously been very precise. Further studies on the topic are planned.

 

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On October 18, the Iowa Section of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses hosted Preeclampsia: A Team Approach to help provide healthcare providers with a greater understanding of the disease. More than 70 participants enjoyed the viewing of the 2009 Chairman's Hope Award for Outstanding Service video highlighting John and Brenda Warner, opening comments by Sue Gehlsen , Executive Director of Women's Services at Iowa Health, presentations by Joseph Hwang, MD, FACOG and George Lederhaas, MD on hypertension in pregnancy and anesthesia issues in preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, and dinner discussion with Christine Streets, Mrs. Iowa United States, who shared her own HELLP syndrome story.

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Several major disorders that occur during pregnancy result from failure of the placenta to implant correctly into the uterus or womb. During early pregnancy cells from the placenta, known as trophoblast cells, invade into the uterus and tap into the mother’s blood supply to sustain the growing baby. Failure of this process can lead to insufficient supply of blood to the placenta resulting in preeclampsia, as well as low birth weight babies, stillbirth or recurrent miscarriage.

The invading placental trophoblast cells intermingle with maternal immune cells in the uterine lining. Trophoblast express not only maternal but also paternal genes and these will be different or “foreign” to the mother. Maternal immune cells can recognize these “foreign” fetal molecules and are thought to regulate the implantation process, allowing sufficient but not excessive invasion of the placenta. In the preeclamptic pregnancy this interactive process goes wrong and there is inadequate modification of the blood vessels which can lead to “starvation” of the placenta and subsequently triggering of the preeclamptic syndrome later in gestation in the mother.

The important molecules displayed by the trophoblast that are recognized by maternal immune cells are members of the HLA (Human Leucocyte Antigen) family known as HLA-C. The maternal receptors that recognize and interact with HLA-C are the KIR family (Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors). These two gene families (HLA and KIR) are very variable or polymorphic meaning that each mother will inherit a particular set of KIR genes and the fetus an HLA-C gene from both mother and father. This means maternal KIR will bind to fetal HLA-C can vary from one pregnancy to another. The interaction should lead to successful implantation but sometimes the combination of these genes from mother and baby results in inadequate invasion and leads to complications in the pregnancy.

Last month, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a team from the University of Cambridge reported new findings on the genetics underlying preeclampsia and other placental diseases. Women with a particular set of KIR genes – the KIR-AA genotype – who were carrying a fetus with a HLA-C2 gene were at higher risk of developing preeclampsia than those carrying other KIR/HLA-C gene combinations. This was especially so if the fetus had inherited the HLA-C2 gene from the father.

These genetic findings do not translate directly into therapeutic interventions in preeclampsia although it may be useful eventually in choosing a compatible sperm donor in IVF. The results tell us more about why placental implantation goes wrong sometimes. They might explain the old idea of the “dangerous male”, where pregnancy with particular men often results in preeclampsia. The report does emphasize the common underlying processes that would explain why a history of miscarriage or infertility is associated with a heightened risk of preeclampsia in subsequent pregnancies. Furthermore this risk cannot be affected by lifestyle, which helps those of us who “did everything right” to explain what went wrong.

Also this month, a team from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, followed up on the connection between blood levels of vitamin D and preeclampsia in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It makes sense to think that the levels of vitamin D in the maternal bloodstream might have something to do with the later development of preeclampsia, because the vitamin is already known to affect some immune responses and because early small observational studies have shown an increased level of preeclampsia in the group of women with low vitamin D levels.

To check this, researchers measured serum levels of vitamin D in a population of women at high risk for preeclampsia, and then recorded their pregnancy outcomes. While the majority of the women had low levels (over three-quarters of the test population had lower levels than normal, and half were technically deficient), there was no connection between the severity of their pregnancy outcomes and the level of deficiency. In other words, some women with normal vitamin D levels still had severe preeclampsia, and some women who were deficient according to current guidelines did not go on to develop preeclampsia at all. This finding suggests that supplementing vitamin D may not have an effect on preeclampsia, although it is still interesting that women who develop the condition also tend to have low levels. There may be some connection between "having the sorts of genes or environment that lead you to develop low levels of vitamin D" and "having the sorts of genes or environment that lead you to develop preeclampsia."

 

A special thanks to Dr. Ashley Moffett, University of Cambridge, and Dr. Timothy Green, University of British Columbia for their expertise and technical input.

 

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Currently there's no way to know for certain whether preeclampsia will develop during any given pregnancy. This leaves pregnant women and their care providers with little choice but to wait for symptoms to appear... dangerous symptoms that mean the disease has progressed to the point where mother and baby are critically ill and will need intensive monitoring and carefully timed delivery to protect their health and lives. The only screening method to date is to measure those symptoms when they appear.

Early detection wouldn't be a treatment. But what if a screening test could let us know, weeks or even months in advance, that we'd probably be getting ill? Knowing might change the way we seek care - possibly choosing specialist care providers with the education and experience to manage medically complicated pregnancies. Women in parts of the world (like Wyoming in the winter) where such care is in short supply might be moved to bigger cities where NICUs and maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists are more accessible. Neonatal specialists could be brought into the consulting team, and steroid shots to accelerate fetal lung development could be planned. All of these interventions together have the potential to lower the rates of fetal and maternal death and severe complications dramatically. (By the way, you may agree or disagree with this assessment; either way, we'd really like to hear your perspective in this important survey we recently launched.)

 

Since many experts consider such a test preferable to our current screening methods, recent research has tried to find a workable test with high levels of both specificity and sensitivity. An ideal test would be one that picked up *all* cases of preeclampsia - it would be sensitive - and *only* cases of preeclampsia, with no false positives - it would be specific. In practice this is all but impossible to achieve, but it's quite possible to find tests with very high levels of sensitivity and specificity, with one measure performing slightly better than the other.

 

So for researchers this creates a choice between creating tests that would produce false positives, and tests that would miss some cases. The worst-case scenario of a false positive is likely to be unnecessary close monitoring; it would not be an indication for immediate delivery. It would provide a reason to follow the pregnancy more closely for symptoms that do indicate that the acute phase of the illness has developed. Since the worst-case scenario of a false negative is a missed case of preeclampsia leading to death of mother and/or baby, public health researchers would prefer to develop tests that will overdetect cases of preeclampsia, but with a low rate of false positives.

 

At a meeting of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) in November, Dr. Vesna Garovic (Mayo Clinic) reported on a study into the use of urinary podocytes as a screening test for preeclampsia, a test that may turn out to have both high sensitivity and specificity for preeclampsia. Podocytes are cells which line the blood vessels in the kidneys and act as filters which keep protein in the bloodstream. Their loss allows protein to spill into the urine, one of the primary signs of preeclampsia.

 

Garovic's research team used a population of 267 women and collected their urine between 25-28 weeks gestation. The samples were examined for podocytes. The 15 women who went on to develop preeclampsia all had podocytes in their urine at that gestational age. The 15 women who developed gestational hypertension did not. The control group of women who had normal pregnancies also did not.

 

Previous research from the same group has indicated that podocytes are present in the urine when preeclampsia symptoms first appear. When they shed into the urine, they cause disruptions in the filtration barrier in the kidney, resulting in proteinuria. The "classic lesion" of preeclampsia - glomerular endotheliosis - may include the loss of these podocytes from the glomeruli in the kidneys.

 

To confirm that this test works well, it will need to be repeated in multiple centers serving broader populations of pregnant women, and to make it available for general use, it will need to be turned into a commercially available testing product. That said, these are very hopeful results - unlike the soluble factors researchers are also pursuing, podocytes appear to only be elevated in women who go on to develop preeclampsia. The soluble factors are elevated in all pregnant women, and just unusually elevated in preeclamptics, which makes it very difficult to develop a screening test with high sensitivity and specificity.

 

Interestingly, it's likely that the podocytes are damaged because of the increased level of sFlt-1, which binds VEGF, which impairs repair of the podocytes and increases the rate at which they die off. It seems likely, given this new research, that it will be easier to detect the damage to the podocytes themselves than it will be to detect an increase of the soluble factors above the point where damage is likely.

 

If it's possible to develop a test similar to a standard pregnancy test, this might be a very effective method which wouldn't require laboratory work, and would make screening much easier and more rapid. Pregnant women who will likely go on to develop preeclampsia could be moved to the care teams that manage complications before they are critically ill, allowing both them and their babies to receive appropriate medical care that would probably reduce poor outcomes substantially.

 

 

A special thanks to Dr. Vesna Garovic at Mayo Clinic, for her expertise and technical input.

 

 

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Perinatal Outreach Educator Networks (POENs) are generally funded by individual states to provide perinatal (the care offered to a mother and child just before and just after birth) medical education to health care providers in the region, enhancing the quality of care for mothers and infants and reducing morbidity and mortality. Specialists share their experience and knowledge with other physicians and community hospitals across regions by offering or facilitating programs such as physician and nurse consultation services, continuing education for health care professionals, emergency medical transport for referring hospitals within the region, consultation and technical assistance on emerging perinatal issues, and sometimes even lending libraries.

For example, in Illinois, there are 10 perinatal centers designated by the state. Rush Hospital in Chicago is home to the the largest network, involving 18 hospitals delivering more than 30,000 infants. The Rush Perinatal Center maintains a 24-hour hotline to facilitate the transfer of high-risk mothers and infants. Through the perinatal center, Rush offers an extensive series of classes for physicians, nurses and other health professionals. Other centers are housed out of the Other centers are housed out of the University of Chicago Perinatal Center; John H. Stroeger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County Perinatal Center; Northwestern/Childrens/Evanston Perinatal Center; University of Illinois /Christ Perinatal Center; Loyola University Perinatal Center; Northwest Illinois Perinatal Center - Rockford Memorial Hospital; North Central Perinatal Center - St. Francis Hospital; South Central Illinois Perinatal Center - St. John’s Hospital; Southern Illinois Perinatal Network - SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and SSM St. Mary’s Health Center.

These regional networks have been widely credited as one of the principle reasons for the rapid decline in neonatal mortality rates in the last several decades. Although, the other principal reason is the introduction in the late 1980s of surfactant replacement therapy, which reduced the incidence of lung disease in newborns.

In Illinois, especially the Chicago area, Preeclampsia Foundation volunteers have been making presentations about the Foundation to various perinatal networks. These volunteers share their stories and information about resources available through the Foundation. They also ask for input on what additional materials would be helpful. From these discussions came the development of a unique HELLP syndrome seminar involving a point-counterpoint type of presentation contrasting the input of Dr. Judith Hibbard of the University of Illinois-Chicago against that of HELLP survivors' real world experiences. As a result of these presentations, orders for the Foundation's patient education materials have increased tremendously. These interactions have also provided good opportunities for raising awareness about upcoming Promise Walks for Preeclampsia™.

Debbie Schy from Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is one of the current co-chairs of the Perinatal Outreach Educators of Illinois and has attended presentations from Foundation volunteers. "We're so appreciative of the volunteers from the Foundation," said Schy. "They are a phenomenal group and we are lucky to have you here."

The Foundation is working with local volunteers to take the success we've enjoyed in Illinois to other major markets across the nation.

 

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Is there a nutritional connection to preeclampsia? That idea seems plausible at first, as when the blood samples of women have been analyzed, some researchers have found altered levels of various vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, preeclamptic women have altered patterns of weight gain during pregnancy; and obese women are more likely to develop preeclampsia.

 

Such considerations may lead one to speculate that certain diets may prevent or reverse the disease, in which case the appropriate diet becomes a therapeutic intervention. However the best research to date suggests this just isn't so.

 

Reviews of all the trials we could locate show that the major and well-designed trials mainly show no benefit. The very large trials show either no benefit to the generalized population (i.e. Calcium supplementation), or even potential harm (i.e. Vitamins C and E). Likewise, attempts to alter rate of maternal weight gain during pregnancy towards normal levels does not alter preeclampsia rates either.


In some instances, preeclampsia itself might be causing the alterations in nutritional status. The placenta, because it is shallowly implanted, needs to use other strategies to improve its ability to ferry nutrients to the fetus, strategies that include altering the maternal metabolism. In addition, obese women may be more likely to carry genes that both make them more likely to develop obesity in a modern environment and to develop preeclampsia in pregnancy.


The example of Vitamin D shows how one such supplementation research line has developed and been disproved. Sure, vitamin D levels are lower in early-onset preeclamptic women, but this happens once the symptoms of the disease have already appeared. And if we check women at the end of the first trimester, the women who will go on to develop preeclampsia cannot be picked out of the rest of the population. Some reviewers wonder if the researchers analyzed the correct form or metabolyte of Vitamin D when deciding if the woman is "deficient." Supplementing vitamin D doesn't seem to do much beyond raising vitamin D levels in blood work

 

That said, there is an important role for nutrition in pregnancy and it behooves everyone to check with a qualified health care provider to assess the appropriateness of their diet as soon as they learn they are pregnant.

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On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed the Food and Drug Safety and Innovation Act, which reauthorizes funding for activities related to the drug and device approval process at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The legislation also includes requirements and provisions for faster review of new and innovative therapies in order to allow patients to be able to access these therapies more quickly. The next step is for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bill, and then a final bill will go to the President for signature.

During debate on the Senate bill, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) spoke on the necessity of finding ways to strengthen and improve the FDA’s review process of new and innovative diagnostic tests, including biomarkers. While biomarkers are not specifically addressed by the legislation, during his remarks, Senator Warner specifically cited preeclampsia as an example of why the country needs to move biomarkers forward and develop a better process for the FDA to work with industry. The following is a copy of the Senator’s remarks as recorded in the Congressional Record:

“Preeclampsia is a disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of pregnant women every year, which undiagnosed, can put a woman at risk for death and the fetus at risk of still-birth.

Doctors currently use a mix of imprecise signs and symptoms to diagnose it but often times such signs and symptoms are wrong. However, researchers have found a biomarker—a particular biological process or sign—that can accurately identify women with preeclampsia that are at risk for pregnancy complications.

Unfortunately, tests for novel biomarkers are taking five or more years to get approved by the FDA, delaying patients from receiving the benefits of more accurate diagnoses and treatments.

I was pleased that a recent commitment letter between the FDA and industry specifically mentions the FDA’s commitment to work together with industry to create a transitional IVD, or “T IVD” process for the development of tests for novel biomarkers.

I look forward to seeing how this T IVD process develops in discussions between FDA and industry and am interested in progress towards its implementation, which supports advances in the sciences and promotes access to these emerging diagnostics.

If reducing healthcare costs is a national priority, we need to act today. I encourage my colleagues to pass S. 3187 and allow the FDA to work more closely with the medical industry to safely bring new technologies to the marketplace.”

The Preeclampsia Foundation is engaging with industry and the federal government to ensure biomarkers for preeclampsia can be carefully considered and the barriers to movement can be understood and addressed. The Foundation is pleased to have Congressional attention focused on this issue.

 

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Five weeks ago, the Preeclampsia Foundation led a historic gathering of nine companies, as well as some of the leading clinicians and researchers in the field of preeclampsia. We also had leaders and front line obstetricians from outside the "inner circle" to ensure we weren't doing too much naval gazing.

This Biomarker Consortium was evidence of several of our core values: we wanted to be influential, catalytic and bold. As the patient advocacy organization caring passionately about improving pregnancy outcomes, we were uniquely positioned to invite and get positive responses from every company who has or is investing in biomarkers as a more advanced technology to diagnose preeclampsia or screen pregnant women for future disease.

I was energized by the ideas and commitment in the room, by the spirit of collaboration and the recognition that together we can do much to advance the momentum and attention on preeclampsia. A report is being developed now, but even better, participants are continuing to generate numerous ideas about how to grow the consortium and develop themes and projects we can rally around.

Warm wishes,

Eleni Z. Tsigas
Executive Director

 
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May and Mother's Day are so intertwined that it's hard to think about one without the other, especially here at the Preeclampsia Foundation, where we've built a nationwide campaign at www.promisewalk.org/campaign to get the word out about preeclampsia - the "thing" that for many survivors turned our entrance into motherhood into a nightmare.


I believe celebrating mothers is a commemoration of extremes. Not just because preeclampsia is an extreme condition, but because the mothers I am privileged to know represent the extremes that make up all mothers: soft and tough, nurturing and driven, catalytic and comforting, impatient and optimistic.


Next Monday, I'll be representing you to 5,000 Ob/Gyns at their Annual Clinical Meeting in San Diego. You've heard us espouse the importance of the patient-provider relationship; now we need "the docs" to embrace their half of the partnership. Who better than an "extreme" mother to tell 'em so?

And, starting next weekend, that same message about the power of knowledge - along with a clarion cry for more research to solve this puzzling problem - will be spread across this country, via The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia. Which Promise Walk are you supporting? We use the walks to force ourselves into the consciousness of our communities and to say "Do not take for granted this thing we call birth." It is can be the most beautiful thing and the most tragic thing to happen to us. Help us end the tragedy.

"Before you were conceived, I wanted you. Before you were born, I loved you. Before you were here an hour, I would die for you. This is the miracle of Mother's Love." ~ Maureen Hawkins


"Well behaved women seldom make history" ~ Laurel Ulrich

Two quotes representing who we are at the extremes. The first one, obvious. The second one, despite its Mae West undertones, I like to think of as the reason "bold" and "influential" are two of our organization's core values. We're here to be effective and sometimes that means making some noise, ruffling some feathers. I guess that brings me back to my lecture to 5,000 physicians. I hope they're ready!

There are lots of ways you can be a mother at the extremes this month.

  • Join us for one of our Twitter Chats with the March of Dimes (Thursday, May 17 at 1 PM) and with HealthyWomen.org (Thursday, May 24 at 12 noon).
  • Click to make your Facebook profile picture our Preeclampsia Awareness Month image throughout the month of May.
  • Share your story in your local community, using any of the resources available on the Awareness Month Campaign page.

We're honored to have you in our tribe. Happy Mother's Day!

 
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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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The Preeclampsia Registry

    The Preeclampsia Registry is a "Living Database" bringing together those affected, their family members, and researchers to advance knowledge and discover preventions and treatments for preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

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