The researchers in Melbourne might just have achieved a breakthrough in the treatment of pre-eclampsia, a common pregnancy complication.

Pre-eclampsia is a life threatening condition that affects pregnant women. It is characterised by fluid retention in the body, proteinuria and high blood pressure.

While it is still not understood what exactly causes pre-eclampsia, it is widely believed that toxins released by the baby into the mother's bloodstream through the placenta increase the blood pressure. Hypertension can affect the internal organs and blood vessels of the affected mother.

The clinicians at the Translational Obstetrics Group at Mercy Hospital for Women and the University of Melbourne are currently planning to test the effectiveness of a daily tablet in a group of pregnant women at a greater risk of pre-eclampsia.

A test conducted on human tissue recently showed that metformin – a cheap drug used to treat diabetes – can control the release of toxins from the placenta when pre-eclampsia is present. In addition, it has the potential to heal injured blood vessels.

"It's very cheap and it's a tablet so you don't need a fridge to store it, which means it could be the perfect drug for the third world," said Dr Fiona Brownfoot, lead author of the study published today in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology .

The Herald Sun reports that so far, the only method to treat pre-eclampsia in pregnant women is to deliver the baby. However, some babies do not survive premature birth and some are left with disabilities. It is estimated that 100 women and 400 babies die of pre-eclampsia every day globally.

Metformin has been a subject of research in the recent years because of its proved ability to prevent some forms of cancer and increase life span. The Age reports that another group of Melbourne researchers is currently testing the role of metformin in preventing uterine cancer in women with breast cancer.

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