Pregnancy protein has guardian potential

Posted 9 Mar 2022

Flinders research hopes to uncover better ways to predict the risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women.

Dr Amy Wyatt has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to assess the link between low levels of pregnancy zone protein in maternal blood and preeclampsia, a leading complication of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia affects thousands of mothers and babies in Australia every year. In the general population the incidence is around 3 – 5 per cent, but it is substantially more common in first-time mothers and disadvantaged populations.

Women with preeclampsia are at serious risk of organ damage, seizure and stroke, and their infants are at risk of growth restriction and premature birth. In the worst-case scenario preeclampsia can be fatal to both mother and infant.

“The reasons why women develop preeclampsia are not well understood. However, problems with the placenta undoubtedly underlie the syndrome,” Dr Wyatt said.

“An emerging theory is that preeclampsia is one of a number of conditions - including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and arthritis - that are driven by the accumulation of damaged protein molecules in organs of the body.

“Our prior research has identified that during pregnancy, a mother’s body produces a specialised molecule called pregnancy zone protein that can act as a guardian by stabilising damaged proteins and preventing their toxicity.”

In this study, Dr Wyatt and her team will analyse maternal blood samples to demonstrate the association between low levels of pregnancy zone protein and the incidence of preeclampsia.

The new knowledge generated from this project will have the potential to contribute to the development of new screening tests for preeclampsia risk and potentially, novel therapies that target the accumulation of toxic damaged proteins in the human body.

Research category: Biomedical

Project title: Characterising the relationship between pregnancy zone protein and preeclampsia   

Lead researcher: Dr Amy Wyatt


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