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Mount Sinai researcher discovers how genetic link causes preeclampsia in pregnant women

February 12, 2009 – A new study led by a Mount Sinai Hospital clinician-scientist has found new ways to manipulate a gene that could potentially decrease a pregnant woman’s risk of preeclampsia - a severe type of high blood pressure in pregnancy that can cause serious medical problems for both the mother and baby. The condition can only be cured by early delivery of the baby.

In the study, published in Cell Death and Differentiation online on February 13, 2009, Dr. John Kingdom, Principal Investigator of the study and Maternal Fetal-Medicine Specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and his team showed that when the activity level of the gene GCM1 (located in the brain and placenta) is low in pregnant women, the outer skin of the placenta sheds abnormally. This causes toxins to be released into the mother’s blood, which leads to preeclampsia. For mother and baby, preeclampsia can lead to serious symptoms and can sometimes be fatal.

Dr. Kingdom and his team found a way to increase the activity level of the GCM1 gene, which  potentially creates a new way to treat mothers with preeclampsia by giving them medication to increase their low GCM1 levels and in turn, improve placental function.

More than 10,000 pregnant Canadians suffer from preeclampsia annually; and two-thirds of those with severe preeclampsia have a depressed GCM1 gene.

“Preeclampsia is on the rise in Canada; however, we are rapidly getting closer to piecing together the relationship between the placenta and preeclampsia,” says Dr. Kingdom. “We are now closer to determining effective treatment for preeclampsia, which would mean that women at risk would deliver their babies at a later gestation and a healthier weight, and it would decrease the infant’s likelihood of requiring neonatal intensive care.”

“We’re winning the war on this disease,” says Dr. Kingdom. “Placenta research is moving at an unbelievable pace. This is good news for the thousands of women in Canada each year who are afflicted with this disease during pregnancy.”

The research, which was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Physician’s Services Inc. Ontario, was undertaken at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute. The other co-principal authors were molecular biologists Dora Baczyk and Dr. Sascha Drewlo, who also work at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.

About Mount Sinai Hospital

Mount Sinai Hospital is an internationally recognized, 472-bed acute care academic health sciences centre affiliated with the University of Toronto. It is known for excellence in the provision of compassionate patient care, innovative education, and leading-edge research. Mount Sinai’s Centres of Excellence include Women's and Infants' Health; Surgery and Oncology; Acute and Chronic Medicine; Laboratory Medicine and Infection Control, and the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute. For more information about Mount Sinai Hospital, please visit us online at


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