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NC State News

We Have Found the Enemy and It Is Us

With apologies to Pogo...

If you suffer from preeclampsia during pregnancy, it could be because your body is fighting against itself.

New research from Dr. Jorge Piedrahita, NC State professor of genomics, has found that the placentas of women diagnosed with preeclampsia have more of a gene associated with regulating the body’s immune response than  the placentas of women who have normal pregnancies.

Specifically, they have much more of an enzyme called SIAE, which helps regulate sialic acid. Sialic acid is important because it coats every cell in our body, enabling our immune system to identify and destroy outside invaders.  SIAE has been associated with auto-immune disorders like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and large amounts of SIAE in these placentas helps confirm scientists’ suspicions that preeclampsia is also an auto-immune disorder.

What this means is that the mother’s body sees the placenta as the enemy, which can lead to some serious – even life-threatening – health problems for the mother.

As Piedrahita says, “Prior to this research, we knew that there was an autoimmune cascade effect with preeclampsia, but we didn’t know where it originated. Now we know that disregulation of SIAE helps start the cascade. We’ve been able to fill in the blanks, and hopefully pregnant women and their babies will benefit as a result.”

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