Magee-Womens Research Institute

Magee-Womens Research Institute studied, from the epidemiologic perspective, the correlation between pregnancy complications and the risk of future cardiovascular disease, which includes hypertension, stroke and coronary heart disease

Not all women who’ve had pregnancy complications will go on to have heart disease. Magee-Womens wanted to probe the mechanisms underlying these conditions for better clues to identify which women are at risk. Magee-Womens researchers studied women during pregnancy and a year after, particularly assessing microvasculature and placenta using everything from blood tests and imaging to electron microscopes. Another aspect of the population project studied women 8-10 years after giving birth to determine what might be hidden risk factors, conducting heart measurements that included 2-D echocardiograms and focusing on small vessel impairment.

Director Research Overview

Carl Hubel, PhD, Center director for Magee-Women's Research Institute
Carl Hubel, PhD

“So, we can better tease out which women really should be followed closely and monitored on the basis of their pregnancy history, and if we can get a better handle on mechanisms, we may be able to actually do things to intervene to change the trajectory that some of these women appear to be on,” Hubel said.

The basic study focused on mice that developed a hypertensive syndrome during pregnancy — and whether that affected the animals’ future health. It did appear to increase the mice’s susceptibility to cardiovascular problems down the road, Hubel said, with obvious implications for humans. The studies, he said, have led to a “virtual goldmine of data,” much of which has yet to be analyzed and published. Already though, the team is becoming more aware that there are subsets and subtypes of women who may go on to develop cardiovascular problems following pregnancy.

Microvascular tests of the placenta, heart and even under the tongue could give indications of a patient’s future cardiovascular health, providing insights into previously hidden or overlooked risk factors, according to study findings.

“One of the ways the science really grew beautifully, with our three projects spanning basic to population, was that our five postdoctoral fellows were able to not only experience it, but sort of lead the science,” Hubel said. “So, we feel that we’ve done our part in training the future generation of scientists.”

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