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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 April, 2005, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Gene causes 'problem pregnancies'
Image of a pregnant woman
The condition can be fatal to mother and child
Scientists say they have discovered why a pregnancy complication which can put the lives of mothers and babies at risk runs in families.

It is down to a gene passed down to a daughter by their mother, Dutch researchers told Nature Genetics.

Women with this gene who become pregnant risk pre-eclampsia and its associated blood pressure and kidney problems that can be fatal, they say.

It might be possible to screen for the gene, they told the BBC News website.

We hope to be able to screen women for this gene
Lead researcher Cees Oudejans

Up to one in 10 pregnant women can get pre-eclampsia. In about one in 50 cases the condition will be severe.

It can be very serious and is still responsible for the deaths of between three and five women a year as well as between 500 and 600 babies.

It is caused by a defect in the placenta, which joins mother and baby and supplies the baby with nutrients and oxygen from the mother's blood.

But scientists still do not fully understand what causes it.

Researchers at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, working with Australian colleagues at Adelaide University, looked at families with two or more sisters who had experienced pre-eclampsia during a pregnancy.

Screening

By analysing the family members' DNA they found a version of one particular gene - STOX1 - was common among the 67 women with a history of pre-eclampsia.

STOX1 is known to be expressed in the placenta during the critical stage in which it invades the lining of the womb in early pregnancy.

It could be a simple blood test
Mr Oudejans

The researchers believe the version that the women with pre-eclampsia inherited from their mothers does not function as well as most other forms of the gene.

Women with one faulty copy have a 50-50 chance of the gene being expressed in the placenta.

Lead researcher Cees Oudejans said: "We hope to be able to screen women for this gene.

"It could be a simple blood test."

Women with a copy of the faulty gene could have a repeat blood test if they became pregnant to see whether they were expressing the gene in their placenta. It might be possible to prevent complications with treatment, said Mr Oudejans.

"In our study, one woman who, in theory, should have had pre-eclampsia, according to her genetics, did not.

"She had received [blood thinning drugs] heparin and aspirin during early pregnancy.

"One of the things we should look at is whether early treatment with these kind of medicines helps," he said.

Michael Rich, chief executive of Action on Pre-eclampsia, said: "A genetic link in pre-eclampsia has long been recognised with a woman whose mother or sisters have had pre-eclampsia being approximately at triple the risk of developing the disease herself.

"What is clear is that a full family history should be taken at a pregnant woman's first "booking" appointment and that women should be made aware of the genetic link that exists in pre-eclampsia."




SEE ALSO:
Pregnancy illness probe backing
11 Mar 05 |  Scotland
Infection link to pre-eclampsia
28 Feb 05 |  Health


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