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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences 

Pitt/Magee-Womens Research Institute Researcher Leading Effort to Create International Database of Samples from Preeclampsia Patients

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 3, 2010 – A renowned researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) will help lead a multi-project program to prevent and treat the pregnancy complication preeclampsia, as well as head a component project that attempts to create a database of biological samples from women around the world.

James Roberts, M.D., professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and MWRI member, is the senior advisor to the executive committee of PRE–EMPT, for PRE-eclampsia–Eclampsia Monitoring, Prevention and Treatment, a $7 million, four-year international research and community intervention effort funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). PRE–EMPT is being led by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI). Dr. Roberts’ database initiative is one of five projects within PRE–EMPT.

“By using a strategy that has been quite successful in studying cardiovascular disease and cancer,  we will bring together data, blood, urine and other biological samples from study groups around the world to gain rapid insight into preeclampsia and its treatment,” said Dr. Roberts. “These samples currently come from developed countries, but the BMGF has 50,000 women in pregnancy studies, and we plan to begin collections at sites in developing countries. Also, we will extend our studies to other pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth and stillbirth, that have great impact in low- and middle-income countries by using data and samples especially relevant to women in these settings.”

Hypertensive disorders, or high blood pressure, complicate 5 to 10 percent of pregnancies and can lead to serious maternal and fetal illness or death. Preeclampsia, the most serious of these disorders, is the second leading cause of maternal death worldwide, resulting in up to 76,000 maternal deaths each year."

That translates into the death of one mother every seven minutes, and 99 per cent of these deaths occur in lower- and middle-income countries,” said Dr. Peter von Dadelszen, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and co-director of the Reproduction & Healthy Pregnancy research cluster at CFRI.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 500,000 fetuses and newborns die annually due to preeclampsia. Since the only way to treat preeclampsia is to deliver the placenta and infant, preeclampsia-related maternal deaths primarily result from delays in diagnosis, transport and treatment.

Led by Dr. von Dadelszen, the PRE–EMPT team, consisting of researchers, physicians and community health professionals from Canada, the U.S., Africa, Asia, Oceania, the U.K. and the WHO, will study, develop and implement a set of clinical guidelines tailored for lower- and middle-income countries. The underlying cause and potential new community-based treatments for preeclampsia will also be investigated.

The five PRE–EMPT projects are:

  • A clinical trial of pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy calcium supplementation in women with low calcium intake and at high risk for preeclampsia in their next pregnancy. The goal of this South African and Zimbabwean trial is to determine whether or not pre- and early-pregnancy calcium supplementation prevents both the diagnosis and consequences of preeclampsia.
  • A study to develop and validate tools to better identify, diagnose and assess risks in order to accelerate triage and transport to centers where women will receive effective and evidence-based treatment. This effective care will avert the adverse maternal and perinatal consequences of preeclampsia.
  • A study to test the impact of a community-level care program for reducing adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes related to preeclampsia. This program will be tailored to different levels of care in a total of four South Asian and sub-Saharan countries.
  • The establishment of an international collaboration, led by Dr. Roberts, to share clinical data and carefully collected biological samples for further collaborative studies that facilitate knowledge generation.
  • A knowledge translation group to update the relevant WHO guidelines.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to NIH data for 2008 (the most recent year for which the data are final).

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see

About Magee-Womens Research Institute

Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI), established in 1992, is devoted exclusively to the health concerns of women and infants. Today, the Institute is the largest women's health research facility in the country, conducting research that spans a woman's entire life cycle – from the formation of cells and embryos through pregnancy, menopause and late life.

Since its inception, the Institute has become a well-recognized and respected center for its research, both nationally and internationally.

Now in its second decade, it has grown from approximately 20 faculty members to more than 90 faculty members who have broad experience in numerous aspects of female physiology and biology. Dedicated to basic, translational, and clinical research in women and infants’ health, this diverse group of basic and clinical scientists collaborates on research studies and the practical application of their findings. MWRI’s interactive approach to research, affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh, and location (only steps away from Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC’s large clinical patient volume) uniquely positions MWRI as an ideal center for reproductive sciences research.

The UBC Faculty of Medicine provides innovative education programs in health and life sciences, teaching over 3,000 students at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. In addition, over 700 researchers/faculty members representing all of the Faculty’s 19 departments, two schools and 15 research centres and institutes received research grants. In 2008/09 the Faculty generated more than one-half of the total research funding of the university ($475.3M). For more information visit

The Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) works in close partnership with the University of British Columbia and the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics; BC Children’s Hospital and Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre and BC Mental Health & Addiction Services, agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority; and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. CFRI has additional important relationships with British Columbia’s five regional health authorities and with B.C. academic institutions Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, the University of Northern British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. For more information, visit

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