Lead Researcher: Dr Anthony Ashton
Most pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby to a healthy mother; however, some pregnancies end in unforeseen and currently untreatable complications. Unfortunately, the signs that something is wrong in these pregnancies appear to be “normal” for most women at the end of pregnancy. Headaches, swelling and difficulty breathing are “par for the course” for the latter stages of pregnancy, but may belie an underlying and dangerous pregnancy complication called pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia affects 1 out of every 20 pregnancies in Australia and is the biggest cause of death in new mothers. The disease is a serious challenge for obstetricians because there are no effective interventions to treat, prevent or diagnose it. Pre-eclampsia is also a predisposing factor to another life-threatening complication of pregnancy, peri-partum cardiomyopathy, where the mother goes into heart failure in the last months of pregnancy or in the 6 months following it. Both conditions are life threatening and without treatments.
Dr Ashton and his team have been working on the cause of pre-eclampsia for the last 15 years and have now, they believe, discovered the reasons why it develops in some pregnancies. Identifying the cause has enabled them to start developing the first tests to diagnose, and the first drugs to treat, pre-eclampsia. To find these drugs, the team are currently engaging with pharmaceutical companies to choose the “diamond in the rough” that will become the first prototype agent for curing pre-eclampsia.
They are also embracing new and exciting technologies in the pathology lab that will allow them to identify pre-eclampsia when it first starts to develop, so treatment can start earlier and ensure the normal, healthy delivery of women’s babies.