Interviewer – I’m joined in the studio today by Dr. Richard J. Levine; he’s a senior investigator with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Levine, thank you for joining us in the studio today. Let’s talk a little bit about the subject of Preeclampsia. What exactly is that?
Dr. Richard Levine – Preeclampsia is a disease of pregnancy usually occurring in first pregnancies and it is characterized by high blood pressure and generalized vascular leakiness, which results in considerable amounts of protein being spilled into the urine from the blood and also in protein and fluid penetrating the tissues.
Interviewer – And is there a certain type of woman/patient who is more proned to having this condition?
Dr. Richard Levine – Yes. In general the women who are obese; women who have insulin-dependent diabetes which precedes their pregnancy; women who have chronic hypertension or who have multi-fetal gestation meaning twins or triplets or something like that. These women are much more susceptible to developing Preeclampsia. In addition of course, if a woman has had Preeclampsia once, she at much greater risk of suffering from it in a subsequent pregnancy.
Interviewer - You and your colleagues just published some findings in the New England Journal of Medicine. What can you tell us about that?
Dr. Richard Levine – Basically in this article we described the characteristics of a second protein that we have discovered, maybe related to Preeclampsia and in this article we more or less demonstrate that it is important in causing what we believe is the cause of this disease. This is a protein which is an Anti-angiogenic protein, meaning it is like a sponge and it sops up growth factors that are required for maintenance of the health of blood vessels. So if there is enough of this anti-angiogenic protein, there won’t be a sufficient supply of these growth factors getting to where they need to go and the woman will develop Preeclampsia.
Interviewer – So what are the implications of that finding?
Dr. Richard Levine – Well this is the second protein of this type that we have found, and we believe that most of the types of Preeclampsia are caused by these two proteins. Generally you need high levels of both of them to get the disease; that is what we believe. So the implications are if you could reduce even the level of one of these proteins, you could probably roll back the disease or prevent the disease from happening. Or if you supplied some of these growth factors that these proteins sop up, you might be able to do the same thing; to cure the disease. We also think that since these proteins are elevated two to three months before the onset of the disease, high levels can be used as a marker to indicate that a woman is susceptible to developing the disease and may get the disease later on in the pregnancy. In addition sometimes, more rarely now but it does happen, Preeclampsia may be confused with other medical conditions which resemble it in symptoms. The way to distinguish Preeclampsia from these other conditions would undoubtedly be to take a blood sample and find the high levels of one or both of these proteins.
Interviewer - Alright Dr. Levine thanks for being with us today and I suppose for more information folks can log onto the website, www.nichd.nih.gov. Thanks again for spending some time with us here today.