Researchers are conducting tests to see if cells from baby’s placenta can be used to treat preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication.
Preeclampsia is one of the leading killers of pregnant women in the U.S. and around the world, and occurs in 3-5% of pregnancies in the U.S. In severe cases the disease can cause strokes, seizures, and even the death of a pregnant woman or her baby.
The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery. The disease can start in mid- pregnancy so a very early delivery may be needed to save the life of the mother. Preterm delivery can negatively impact an infant’s health across her lifespan. Preeclampsia is actually responsible for 12% of preterm births in the U.S.
Until recently it was thought that preeclampsia had no long term effects on a woman’s health after she delivered. This February, however, the American Heart Association & American Stroke Association announced that women who had a history of preeclampsia had twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of developing high blood pressure even decades after their pregnancies.
Right now there are no cures and scientists do not completely understand the causes of preeclampsia, although abnormal development and function of the placenta are thought to play a central role.
Doctors can sometimes treat symptoms but no treatments stop the progress of the disease. There are few ongoing clinical trials to evaluate potential treatments. Novartis and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development each have an ongoing study.
A new trial is being designed by Pluristem Therapeutics to test a placenta-based cell therapy for treatment of preeclampsia. Pluristem takes cells from the placenta, which is generally discarded after birth, and expands and modulates them in 3 dimensional bioreactors. The therapeutic cells produced in their manufacturing facility are injected into muscle where they secrete proteins which could potentially treat preeclampsia. The first human trial of this treatment is expected to begin towards the end of the year.
The US Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend giving low dose aspirin to pregnant women with specific high risk factors for developing preeclampsia because it reduces their chance of developing the disease by 24%.
Many women who develop preeclampsia have no identifiable risk factors, however, and with 75% of treated women still developing the disease, preeclampsia remains a significant unmet medical need that needs to be addressed with research and development of therapies. A treatment, whether it be a drug or a cell therapy, would have a significant impact on the health of pregnant women and their children worldwide.
Karine Kleinhaus, MD, MPH, is Divisional VP, North-America at Pluristem Therapeutics. She has worked with multiple public and private biotechnology companies on both public and investor relations. Prior to that, she was an assistant professor in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. At NYU, Dr. Kleinhaus conducted medical research funded under a multi-year NIH grant. She published more than 25 papers in leading peer-reviewed journals such as the Annals of the New York Academy of Science, American Journal of Medical Genetics, and the American Journal of Epidemiology. Before that Dr. Kleinhaus practiced obstetrics and then completed two fellowships at Columbia University.
Dr. Kleinhaus received her medical degree from Tel Aviv University, earned a Master of Public Health from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Princeton University.