QUB in research bid to save thousands of mothers’ and babies’ lives

  • Yongxin Jeremy Yu

Press/Media: Research


Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have been awarded a major, international grant to investigate if the perinatal condition of pre-eclampsia could be treated with cheap, everyday drugs.

Lead researcher Dr Jeremy Yongxin Yu from Queen's Centre for Experimental medicine will use the $250,000 to test around 300 drugs – many of them in common usage – which are considered relatively safe to administer to pregnant women.

If, as hoped, the two-year research project identifies an effective treatment for preeclampsia, it could save the lives of thousands of mothers and babies around the world.

Dr Yu described full-blown eclampsia as a “health crisis” which kills 500,000 babies and 75,000 mothers each year, mostly in developing countries. In the UK, it is still responsible for the deaths of 1,000 babies each year.

Mothers-to-be with diabetes are four times more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, which involves dangerously high blood pressure and damage to the placenta. There is no known cure, but if it can be diagnosed at the earlier, pre-eclampsia stage, babies can be delivered by emergency Caesarean section, although often prematurely.

Dr Yu, from the Centre for Experimental Medicine in School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, at Queen’s, said: “The placenta has to grow a huge amount of blood vessels in a short space of time. What we medical researchers have noticed is that certain molecules promote this growth, while others inhibit it. In the case of women who develop preeclampsia, there are too many inhibiting molecules. Following on from my previous research, I now want to see if I can halt these inhibitors with drugs. It’s important these drugs be cheap and widely available – the purpose is to come up with a treatment that can be used all over the world. That way, we will not only be advancing knowledge but changing lives.”

Co-researcher Professor Tim Lyons, also from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s, said: “Pre-eclampsia can be fatal if not caught, but even when it is, there are long-term health effects: women who’ve had pre-eclampsia are at higher risk from developing kidney and cardiovascular disease later in life, as are their babies.”

Honorary Professor of Endocrinology at Queen’s, David McCance said: “Pre-eclampsia can be a devastating complication of pregnancy. This grant offers an exciting research opportunity and is another example of Queen’s being an international research leader and how local talent can have a global impact.”

The Queen’s research proposal was one of just 26 selected from over 500 applications from around the world to the Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development funding. The Saving Lives at Birth partnership, launched in 2011, includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, and Grand Challenges Canada (funded by the Government of Canada). The Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development is a global call for innovative prevention and treatment ideas, approaches, and technologies that aim to reduce infant and maternal mortality around the time of birth.

This project, which will monitor the effect of a variety of drugs on placenta cells, is part of Queen’s expanding research efforts in pre-eclampsia that are being conducted in collaboration with a range of local and international academics, clinicians and NGOs.

Consultant obstetrician Alyson Hunter, from the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast, said: “The prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia remains a major challenge in obstetrics. Aspirin has been used with limited success in preventing pre-eclampsia but Dr Yu’s and Professor Lyons' research may discover another commonly used, cheap medication that may be much more effective and help save many lives worldwide.”

A full list of Saving Lives at Birth award-winners can be found at http://www.usaid.gov/news-information/pressreleases/



Period15 Oct 2014

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleQUB in research bid to save thousands of mothers’ and babies’ lives
    PersonsYongxin Jeremy Yu