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Researchers discover harmful proteins responsible for preeclempsia

In a ground-breaking development, researchers from Western and Brown Universities claimed to have found a harmful protein that plays a substantial role in inducing preeclampsia in groundbreaking progress towards understanding the fundamental cause and therapeutic therapy for preeclampsia..

Pregnancy-related problems impact up to 8% of pregnancies worldwide and are the major cause of maternal and foetal mortality owing to early delivery, placental difficulties, and a lack of oxygen.

The study, directed by Drs. Kun Ping Lu and Xiao Zhen Zhou at Western and Drs. Surendra Sharma and Sukanta Jash at Brown, discovered a hazardous protein, cis P-tau, a protein long associated with Alzheimer's disease, in the blood and placenta of preeclampsia patients.

Pointing out that the root cause of preeclampsia has so far remained unknown, Lu, professor of biochemistry and oncology at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Lu, who is also a Western Research Chair in Biotherapeutics, said, "Without a known cause, there has been no cure. Preterm delivery is the only life-saving measure."

"Our study identifies cis-P-tau as a crucial culprit and biomarker for preeclampsia. It can be used for early diagnosis of the complication and is a crucial therapeutic target," said Sharma, who recently retired from his Brown roles as a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine (research) and a professor of paediatrics research.

The study expands on the discovery by Sharma, a famous preeclampsia researcher, and his colleagues in 2016 that preeclampsia and disorders such as Alzheimer's have similar fundamental causes related to protein problems.

Until recently, cis-P-tau was mostly linked to neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and stroke. Lu and Zhou identified this link in 2015 as a result of their decades of research on the role of tau protein in cancer and Alzheimer's.

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Zhou developed an antibody in 2012 that targets only the harmful protein while leaving the healthy counterpart alone, and it is presently being tested in human patients suffering from TBI and Alzheimer's disease. In animal models and human cell cultures, the antibody has demonstrated promising results in treating brain disorders.

The researchers wanted to see if the same antibody might be used to treat preeclampsia. They discovered unexpected results when they tested the antibody in mouse models.

"In this study, we found the cis-P-tau antibody efficiently depleted the toxic protein in the blood and placenta and corrected all features associated with preeclampsia in mice. Clinical features of preeclampsia, like elevated blood pressure, excessive protein in the urine, and foetal growth restriction, among others, were eliminated, and pregnancy was normal," said Sharma.

Sharma and his colleagues at Brown University have been working on creating an assay for the early diagnosis of preeclampsia and its treatments. He feels the findings of the study have taken them closer to their aim.

Recent research has also shed light on preeclampsia’s long-term impacts and possible links to brain health.

Pointing out that preeclampsia presents immediate dangers to both the mother and foetus, but its long-term effects are less understood and still unfolding, Sharma said, "Research has suggested a heightened risk of dementia later in life for both mothers who have experienced preeclampsia and their children." However, the causal link between preeclampsia and dementia is not known.

According to the researchers, this new study has identified a possible underlying explanation for the complicated link between preeclampsia and brain health.

"Our study adds another layer to this complexity. For the first time, we’ve identified significant levels of cis-P-tau outside the brain in the placenta and blood of preeclampsia patients. This suggests a deeper connection between preeclampsia and brain-related issues," said Jash, the lead author of the study.

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