SCIENTISTS may have found a breakthrough in the treatment of preeclampsia, a deadly condition affecting some pregnant women, for which there is currently no treatment option other than to deliver the baby, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Preeclampsia is a vascular condition that affects up to eight percent of pregnant women, and causes high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, high levels of protein in the urine and fluid retention that causes swelling in the legs and feet. Preeclampsia is also believed to restrict a fetus’ growth.
The disease does not respond to drugs to lower blood pressure, which have the additional hazard of reducing blood flow to the baby, which could result in fetal death. Currently, the only treatment for a pregnant woman afflicted with preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, sometimes months prematurely.
The study by researchers at Tohoku University, however, found that nicotinamide—also referred to as Vitamin B3—relieves preeclampsia in mouse models. In addition, they also discovered that nicotinamide can improve fetal growth in mothers with preeclampsia.
“We had previously shown that endothelin, a strong vessel narrowing hormone, worsens preeclampsia. But inhibiting the hormone is harmful to the babies,” explained study co-author Associate Professor Nobuyuki Takahashi of Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“In contrast, nicotinamide is generally safe for mothers and babies, corrects the blood vessel narrowing effect of endothelin, and reduces stress to the babies. Accordingly, we evaluated the effects of nicotinamide using two mouse models of preeclampsia caused by different mechanisms,” he continued.
The researchers concluded that nicotinamide is the first safe drug that lowers blood pressure, reduces urine protein and alleviates blood vessel damage in preeclampsia-affected mice. The researchers went on to show that in many cases, nicotinamide also prevents miscarriage, prolongs pregnancy period and improves the growth of the babies in mice with preeclampsia.
Reacting to the study’s results, Nobel laureate Oliver Smithies, a Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a collaborator in the study said, “Nicotinamide merits evaluation for preventing and treating preeclampsia in humans.”
The research team expressed hope that if the treatment works in humans, nicotinamide could help treat preeclampsia and prevent fetal growth restriction associated with the disease in pregnant women.