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New discovery expected to have significant impact on maternal, fetal and neonatal health

Dr. Peeyush Lala from Western University is a pioneer in the study and treatment of tumors. During his landmark career, the Professor Emeritus and Past Chair of Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology has identified many locally-produced molecules, which positively or negatively regulate placental invasion of the uterus to maintain the all-important balance required to make a healthy placenta without harming the uterus.

Of those significant findings, a molecule known as decorin (DCN), which is produced by the uterus, was shown to restrain placental invasion and restrict the overall ability of the very placental cells that control maternal blood flow to transfer nutrients to the embryo, and later develop into a large part of the placenta.

Lala and his team members Pinki Nandi and Mohammad Fyyaz Siddiqui, as well as Western collaborators Dr. Victor Han, Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook and Dr. Barbra de Vrijer, have now discovered that over-production of DCN by the pregnant uterus is associated with preeclampsia, a condition in expectant mothers characterized by unexpected rise in blood pressure and compromised kidney function after mid-pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a leading cause of death of pregnant women, and sometimes their fetuses or newborns, throughout the world.

“This discovery is expected to have a significant impact on maternal, fetal and neonatal health,” says Dr. Lala. “It is very difficult to diagnose preeclampsia before clinical signs appear and managing it during pregnancy is extremely problematic, so early detection is crucial to the survival of the mother and her baby.”

Lala and his research team are currently engaged in a large prospective study with international investigators to validate this biomarker in a larger population of pregnant mothers.

According to the study, which was recently published by The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, an elevated blood DCN level in an expectant mother during early-mid pregnancy (15 to 18 weeks) can predict preeclampsia, before clinical signs appear. This was shown by a retrospective analysis of plasma samples from 28 control and 28 preeclampsia subjects who were matched for body-mass-index.

“This study shows that DCN is a novel biomarker of preeclampsia that can be used for monitoring pregnant mothers, taking preventive measures and preparing healthcare providers for early intervention,” says Lala.