CONTACT: DEBRA VENZKE
UI COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
Release: Dec. 21, 2001
UI researcher receives grant to study preeclampsia
CITY, Iowa -- Audrey Saftlas, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology in
the University of Iowa College of Public Health, has received a four-year,
$2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(NICHD) to study risk factors for preeclampsia. Specifically, the study will
determine if histocompatibility (the similarity of tissue between different
individuals) between a pregnant woman and her fetus increases the risk of
Preeclampsia is a condition that complicates about 5 percent of all pregnancies
and is characterized by elevated blood pressure, protein in the urine and
swelling in the face and hands during the final weeks of pregnancy. Although
the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, a growing body of research points
toward an immune-based origin.
Symptoms of preeclampsia can develop without warning and can progress rapidly
to eclampsia, a condition characterized by potentially fatal seizures. Preeclampsia
is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. Infants born to mothers
with preeclampsia may be extremely small for their age or may be born prematurely,
which may place them at risk for a variety of other complications.
With the NICHD grant, Saftlas will conduct a case-control study to determine
if women who develop preeclampsia are more likely to share human leukocyte
antigens (HLA) with their infants than women who maintain normal blood pressure
throughout pregnancy. HLA antigens are proteins on the surface of white blood
cells that play an important role in the body's immune response to foreign
"The goal of the study is to determine if histocompatiblility between
mother and fetus has a detrimental effect by impairing the ability of the
mother's immune system to recognize the fetus and sustain a healthy pregnancy,"
Saftlas said. "Women in the study will be asked to participate in a 30-minute
telephone interview and provide cheek cell samples from themselves and their
babies for analysis of histocompatibility."
The study population will include 500 women residing in five Iowa and two
Connecticut counties who give birth between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2004.
The studys co-investigators are Kathleen Belanger, Ph.D., research
scientist; Michael Bracken, Ph.D., professor and head; and Elizabeth Triche,
Ph.D., associate research scientist; all of the Yale University Division of
Chronic Disease Epidemiology. Other UI researchers include investigators Elizabeth
Field, M.D., professor in the UI Department of Internal Medicine Division
of Rheumatology; Robert Woolson, Ph.D., professor in the UI Department of
Biostatistics; and Jerome Yankowitz, M.D., associate professor in the UI Department
of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The project is located in the Center for Health
Policy and Research, based in the UI College of Public Health.