Scientists are exploring the potential of stem cell therapy to treat preeclampsia

An international team of researchers has concluded that mesenchymal stem cells may be the best therapeutic tool for preeclampsia. This is especially true for developing countries, which are characterized by a low level of socioeconomic development.

Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal and perinatal mortality and disability, killing about 76,000 mothers and 500,000 babies worldwide every year. Despite this, the only cure at present is artificial preterm delivery, which often leads to long-term complications.

In recent years, research into stem cell disease therapies has been conducted in animal models. A review article, published in Current Hypertension Reports, examines mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) as a potential new treatment for preeclampsia.

Senior author, Dr Lana McClements, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) said that preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that develops after week 20 of pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage, most commonly kidney or the liver.

“Most of the deaths associated with preeclampsia occur in developing or low-resource countries however preeclampsia rates in developing countries are increasing due to increase rates of obesity, diabetes and age of women getting pregnant. While there are fewer deaths caused by preeclampsia in developing countries, the economic burden on the healthcare systems is significant”, – she says.

“In addition, studies show that beyond life-threatening complications in pregnancy preeclampsia is associated with increased maternal and offspring ill health in later life which makes this review important. If stem cell therapies have potential to treat this condition in pregnancy then their application needs to be assessed for clinical trials”, – she says.

Dr McClements and her co-authors from Mayo Clinic (USA); University of Belgrade (Serbia); University of Nis (Serbia), Queen’s University Belfast (UK) and Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts examined the therapeutic potential and mechanisms of mesenchymal stem cells in the context of preeclampsia.

MSCs are the most widely used stem cells to treat many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. Recent studies have examined this type of stem cell and its secreted vesicles as new treatment options for preeclampsia in preclinical (animal) models and have shown promising results.

The authors say that stem cell-produced vesicles are of particular interest to countries with limited resources because of their stability and the absence of the need for expensive GMP standard cell laboratories.

“Preeclampsia develops due to a complex set of conditions. Our review shows that there is potential to use stem cells as therapy but we still don’t understand the mechanism by which MSCs might repair damage in the condition.

“Further work is needed to maximize their therapeutic potential and minimise possible side effects before they can be introduced in a clinical setting, this is why we are pursuing this important research in my laboratory at UTS to help treat such a devastating disease”, – Dr McClements says.