Treating disease doesn't always mean creating new drugs. Sometimes the therapies are already in our pharmacies and medicine cabinets.
Two labs in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology recently provided evidence for two new preeclampsia treatments that may be familiar: one a common dietary supplement, the other a little blue pill.
In separate tests, vitamin D and sildenafil (sold commercially as Viagra) were able to lower blood pressure in animal models of preeclampsia without compromising fetal health.
“In preeclampsia, there are two patients: mom and baby,” said Dr. Babbette LaMarca, associate professor of pharmacology. “You can't treat with heavy drugs and there's fear that if you reduce blood pressure too much, you may harm the baby.”
Preeclampsia occurs in 5-10 percent of pregnancies worldwide. Pregnant women will develop hypertension, reduced kidney function and placental ischemia - reduced blood flow to the baby.
The potential for birth defects with numerous anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive drugs limits management options. The only reliable treatment is delivery, but pre-term babies have a higher risk of health and developmental problems.
However, vitamin D is a strong anti-inflammatory hormone and deficiency of the vitamin is a preeclampsia risk factor, LaMarca said. So taking a supplement during pregnancy may be especially important.
The cause of preeclampsia isn't well understood, but it involves the immune system, said Dr. Jessica Faulkner, a postdoctoral researcher at Augusta University who recently completed her PhD in LaMarca's lab.
“In preeclampsia, we see an altered immune response,” Faulkner said. “The body may see the fetus as foreign and activate the immune system, especially the pro-inflammatory arm.”