Pre-eclampsia – which can be life-threatening to mother and baby – occurs during around 5% of pregnancies. It’s thought to be caused by foetal haemoglobin (HbF) – the molecule that carries oxygen in the foetus’ blood – leaking from the placenta and releasing reactive oxygen molecules. As well as causing high blood pressure, they can damage delicate membranes such as those in the placenta and kidney. Currently, the only cure for pre-eclampsia is to induce birth. However, a molecule produced by our liver called A1M, can mop up the harmful agents in HbF, preventing them from causing damage. Looking with high magnification at the depths of kidneys from rabbits given HbF and comparing them with those from healthy rabbits (pictured), researchers found HbF caused pre-eclampsia-like damage. But if the rabbits were then given A1M, damage disappeared. It’s possible that boosting the mother’s own A1M could provide a cure for pre-eclampsia.
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