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Researchers at the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility (CCRF) have won a five year MRC funding programme to help understand how high blood pressure (hypertension) during pregnancy affects the heart, brain and blood vessels throughout the life of women, as well as the children born after such a pregnancy.

The researchers, led by Professor Paul Leeson, will make use of very detailed, multi-organ, imaging data they have previously collected, to describe the life course of children and adults born after a hypertensive pregnancy. The team, which also includes Associate Professor Adam Lewandowski and Dr Winok Lapidaire, will enrich this data with further imaging studies at specific time points, and across different patient groups, to make sure that the collection of images is broad and representative.

The team will be using heart and vascular imaging facilities at the CCRF and Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research (OCMR), as well as at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Additional data and analysis will be provided through their collaborators at the University of Bristol, King’s College London, St George’s University in London, and McGill University in Canada.

The team will also use the AI-driven analysis expertise at Oxford University and beyond to build computational models that describe how hypertensive disease progresses, both in a representative sample of the UK population (through use of the UK Biobank dataset), as well as women and young adults at high risk of hypertension because of their family history of hypertensive pregnancies. Their ultimate goal is to develop a clinical scoring system that can predict how hypertensive disease is likely to develop over the next few years.

Professor Lewandowski said “If we can identify unique patterns of hypertensive disease development, it opens the door to better interventions and therapies tailored for each person.

“For example, specific stages of disease could be identified, based on specific combinations of imaging markers and clinical tests. Our AI analysis can then be used to find out what these combinations are, generating tools that can be used by clinicians to track disease development.”

Project lead Professor Paul Leeson said “There is a real opportunity for our findings to identify new ways to monitor and prevent cardiovascular diseases in mothers and children exposed to a hypertensive pregnancy.”

Dr Winok Lapidaire said “Our novel machine learning application and unique datasets of women who have had a hypertensive pregnancy will allow us to identify patterns of changes across the body, including the heart and the brain, with the aim to develop clinical tools to improve women’s health.”

One of the aims of the research is to raise greater awareness of the impact of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy on both mother and child to those affected, and Julie Kelly, a study participant and patient involvement panel member will be leading a patient advocacy group for the study. Julie said “I suffered from severe pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy and have participated in several research studies, going on to become a member of the study patient and public involvement group.

“Knowing the impact pre-eclampsia has had on my health and the possible impact on my daughter’s health, I have enjoyed my active role in the research process as a patient and public involvement ambassador and contributing to the success of the studies”

The Oxford team have recently launched the Oxford Cardiovascular Disease and Pregnancy Research Collaborative (CDPRC) to establish further collaborations between scientists, clinicians and researchers interested in a variety of research areas related to cardiovascular Disease and hypertensive pregnancies.