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Principal Investigator Nihar R. Nayak, DVM, PhD, Stanford University, recently reported successful progress in his efforts to better understand the role of certain placental proteins in the development of preeclampsia. His 2011 Vision Grant research project aimed to see how proteins act in the placenta during preeclampsia. In Nayak's multi-stage investigation, he first needed to develop a new method using a mouse model system to study the roles of specific proteins in placental function and disease, as well as testing novel therapeutic approaches to preeclampsia. In his model, protein expressions can be seen in all stages of pregnancy.
Nayak's team has also developed a way to study how genes act in the placentas of mice. Genes play an important part in the development of the placenta during pregnancy. Better ways to see how abnormal genes act will help us learn more about what causes the amount of certain proteins to be higher than normal. Additionally, the abnormality of the genes is thought to occur in the early stages of development of the placenta. Therefore, this new model allows them to see how the genes act in the early stages of development.
A protein called sFlt-1 is found in the blood of pregnant women at a higher level when they have preeclampsia. Understanding this protein and why it accumulates will have a direct impact on the design of clinical therapies for preeclampsia. With their new method, they have been able to see how sFlt-1 acts in mice by using a virus' genes to tell the placenta to stop making sFlt-1. This will help explain how the gene and proteins act together and what causes the abnormally high amount of sFlt-1 in preeclampsia.
The Stanford group is also trying to see how another protein, VEGF, acts during pregnancy. This protein is also higher in preeclampsia pregnancies than in normal pregnancies and they are currently using the same method to study it, believing that higher levels of VEGF in the placenta also has an important role in causing preeclampsia.
Nayak and his team will conclude this research toward the end of the year at which time they will seek to publish and report their results.