The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $4.2 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University to study placental function in pregnant women and to develop a noninvasive device for the early detection of placental disorders such as pre-eclampsia.
The grant is part of the NIH’s Human Placenta Project, a collaborative research effort that would revolutionize the understanding of the placenta’s role in health and disease. Previous studies of the placenta have looked at the organ after delivery. This study will examine the placenta in real time, while it is doing its job.
“The goal of this study is to be able to track pregnant mothers longitudinally, starting from when she goes to the doctor to confirm she is pregnant and throughout her pregnancy,” said Charles Chalfant, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the VCU School of Medicine, and recipient of the four-year grant for his project, “The Utilization of Photonics Technology to Rapidly Detect Bioactive Lipids Associated with Pre-eclampsia Development.”
Five to seven percent of all pregnancies are affected by pre-eclampsia, a complication marked by high blood pressure and possible damage to other organ systems and the baby. Older and obese women, mothers carrying multiple babies, and those with pre-existing hypertension have a higher risk.
There is no cure for pre-eclampsia other than delivery, which can sometimes lead to preterm birth and a host of other complications. There are also long-term effects, such as an increased risk for heart disease for mothers later in life. Early detection is essential.