Preeclampsia is a sometimes serious condition affecting pregnant women at about their 20th week of gestation. Though not common, when left untreated, it can lead to fatal complications for both the mother and baby. A new study has discovered the genetic patterns that may cause predisposition to preeclampsia. These findings, although preliminary, suggest that doctors may need to adjust the way they study and treat the condition.

Researchers are just beginning to tap into the vast resources provided by genetic testing. Innovations in DNA testing are changing science’s perceptions on a number of conditions ranging from cancer to neurological diseases. Results of the new study hint that preeclampsia may soon be added to this list. Using advanced data mining techniques, a team of researchers were able to identify 535 maternal and fetal genes that have been repeatedly associated with either preeclampsia or closely related conditions.

There has been much research on preeclampsia, however, observing the condition from the fetus’s viewpoint is a new approach. “A lot of the research focuses typically on the mother because it’s a maternal condition, but it does support the fact that the fetus plays an important role in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia,” Elizabeth Triche, co-author of the study, explained in a recent press release.

In their genetic analysis, the researchers were able to determine which genes were shared or unique between mother and fetus, how these genes related to preeclampsia, and what the biological role of the key genes appeared to be. In addition, the study helped to uncover which particular genes were involved in bringing on early and late onset of the condition. These findings prove that different forms of preeclampsia have distinct sets of genes contributed from both the mother and fetus. Overall, researchers were able to identify 204 distinct genes in the fetus associated with preeclampsia, 25 associated with the severe form, and 52 present in both forms.

Although it may not seem like it at the moment, the new information and perspective gained from this study will help researchers fully understand what’s going on biologically when a patient develops preeclampsia. "These more parsimonious sets of genes will allow comparison of gene-gene interactions or higher combinatorial effects with a greater degree of statistical power," Triche and her co-authors wrote in the press release.

Preeclampsia is defined as high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women who before had normal blood pressure. It is marked by severe headaches, changes in vision, and abdominal pain, among other symptoms. As of now, the only way to cure the condition is to deliver your baby. If a baby is too young to be delivered, the woman undergoes close monitoring. She may be prescribed anticonvulsive medication or even be admitted to the hospital.

There are also many non-genetic factors that put a woman at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia. These include age, obesity, and a history of conditions such as chronic high blood pressure and diabetes.

Source:Triche E, Uzun A, DeWan A, et al. Bioinformatic Approach to the Genetics of Preeclampsia. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2014