A paper published in recent online edition of Circulation, suggests a new therapy to control toxic protein levels in blood that may cause preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that occurs during pregnancy that causes increased blood pressure and increased protein levels in urine. The only cure for preeclampsia is birth. If the condition presents before the fetus is full-term, complications can arise after birth. 

Researchers from the United States and Germany collaborated on the paper. The therapy involves filtering blood to reduce toxic protein levels. The protein in question is called Flt-1. Women who suffer from extremely early preeclampsia tend to have higher concentrations of Flt-1. The protein suppresses blood vessel growth, which leads to preeclampsia. 

The study is just in the pilot stages, so additional larger studies need to be completed before the therapy can be approved for use in the pregnant population. Researchers noted that between 5- to 7-percent of pregnancies are affected by preeclampsia. Symptoms tend to progress until the fetus is born. If symptoms are not resolved with therapy or birth, preeclampsia can lead to kidney failure, seizures or death. 

The biggest threat of preeclampsia to the fetus is pre-term birth. Babies born before 32 weeks gestation are 70 times more likely to not survive than fetuses born full-term; after 37 weeks gestation. The aim of preeclampsia research is to find a cause and a viable treatment to extend pregnancy beyond the 37th week and decrease risk of death for the fetus and expectant mother. 

There is no known cause for preeclampsia, though researchers believe the Flt-1 protein is a major player. Flt-1 blocks vascular growth factor or VGF. VGF is responsible for supporting healthy blood vessel growth during gestation. 

The small-scale study represented in the study included three women admitted to the hospital with preeclampsia between 27 and 30 weeks gestation. Two of the women received two treatments and one woman received four treatments. Treatments, which filtered blood to reduce the Flt-1 protein, resulted in an average reduction of up to 30-percent. The pregnancies were extended two to three weeks after treatment. The average extension of pregnancy after a pregnant woman is admitted for preeclampsia is about 4 days. 

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital. Ravi Thadhani, MD, MPH, Ananth Karumanchi, MBBS, Tuelay Kisner, MD, Henning Hagmann, MD, Verena Bossung, MD, Stefanie Noack, RN, Peter Mallmann, MD, Angela Kribs, MD, and Oliver Cornely, MD, University of Cologne; Wiebke Schaarschmidt, MD, Alexander Jank, MD, Clauria Kreyssig, MD, and Tom Lindner, MD, University Hospital Leipzig; Linda Hemphill, MD, MGH Division of Nephrology; and Alan Rigby, PhD, and Santosh Khedhar, PhD, Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital. 4 August, 2011.