Professor Mark Kilby recently explained to journalist Alan Shaw how his work investigating possible links between vitamin D deficiency and pre-eclampsia could help babies at risk of being born too small and too soon. The Weekly News has kindly allowed us to reproduce the interview on our blog.
Vitamin D is important for bone growth — if you’re deficient, you can get rickets as a child and thin bones as an adult. “But it’s telling that woman with the lowest vitamin D levels tend to have the highest rates of pre-eclampsia.
It affects around 5% of all pregnant women and worldwide kills probably the number of people flying on a Jumbo Jet every day. In this country, there are fewer maternal deaths, but it’s responsible for prematurity and babies being born too small and too soon. If severe, it can cause fits, convulsions and strokes in the mother, it can cause liver and kidney failure and it can cause the blood not to clot properly.
It can also affect the way the placenta works, so the babies are often very small.
We’ve shown that what pre-disposes women to this problem is that at the beginning of pregnancy, what happens normally is the placenta implants onto the lining of the womb. “Cells then grow into that lining making the blood vessels low-pressure rather than high-pressure.
If this doesn’t happen, women are at very high risk of getting pre-eclampsia, but in a test tube we can get those cells to invade more if there are higher levels of vitamin D. It’s recommended pregnant women take small amounts of vitamin D, but the natural next step for us is to find out if a higher dose is needed.
Mark Kilby, who is Professor of Foetal Medicine at the University of Birmingham and Lead for Birmingham Centre for Women’s and Newborn’s Health, says it is estimated that up to 20% of babies in special care units in the UK were born to mothers who suffered from this condition. You can find out more about his research, funded by Action, here.
Emily was born six weeks early after her mum Tracy developed pre-eclampsia and you can read her story here.