Every eight minutes a pregnant woman dies of pre-eclampsia somewhere in the world.
Pre-eclampsia is a disease of the placenta, which causes the blood vessels to constrict. The placenta delivers all the nutrients and oxygen to the baby during pregnancy. This results in high blood pressure and a reduced blood flow that can affect the mother’s organs, such as liver, kidneys, and brain. It can be life-threatening.
Dr. Andrée Gruslin was a maternal fetal medicine specialist who spent her entire career interested in and investigating diseases of the placenta. She was passionate about placenta health and the importance it plays in pregnancy.
“The placenta is a very intriguing organ, which is essential for normal pregnancy and the development of a healthy fetus, and a healthy mother,” said Dr. Gruslin. “When the placenta is diseased, two of the most serious conditions occur: pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction. These are associated with the highest number of mortalities of the mother and baby. So it’s essential to have a normal, well-functioning placenta.”
For 15 years, Dr. Gruslin ran a laboratory at The Ottawa Hospital devoted to placenta research. Her team of six scientists concentrated on understanding how the placenta grows and develops, and then attempted to identify markers to determine how a mother would develop placenta disease. A few years ago, Dr. Gruslin founded, and was director of, the Placenta Health Clinic at The Ottawa Hospital where her team’s research was used to help prevent these diseases and care for patients suffering from them.
“It’s a great way to take our research findings and apply them in a translational fashion,” Dr. Gruslin said about the Clinic.
Another important focus of the Clinic is fetal growth restriction, which is a serious placental complication that results in the inability of the fetus to grow. It is associated with a high rate of mortality for the baby while in the mother’s womb and in the neonatal care unit. These babies suffer multiple complications after delivery, and grow up to have increased risks of adult onset diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. So having a diseased placenta can also affect adult health.
Dr. Gruslin’s team generally examines the high risk population. Pre-eclampsia, in particular, is a rare disorder that only five percent of women have. However, women at risk have a 25 to 40 percent chance of developing it.
Dr. Gruslin had a long 10-year battle with breast cancer. She continued as Director of the Placenta Health Clinic, but her illness forced her to stop all clinical activities in April. Unfortunately, Dr. Gruslin passed away on June 10, 2014. Right up to the end, she was passionate about the importance of placenta health research.
To further ensure that research in placenta health continued long after she was no longer involved in it, Dr. Gruslin set up a fund. She hoped that upon her passing, her peers would donate to this fund in her memory and support the research so dear to her heart.
“By having a fund, this will help the placenta health research team continue its research, which means we can continue to contribute to promoting the well being of our mothers and their fetuses, and reducing their risk of death and diseases,” she said.