Biology prof receives grant to fund research into preeclampsia

York biology Professor Chun Peng working in her laboratory

Preeclampsia is disorder of pregnancy that kills more than 575,000 yearly.

Biology Professor Chun Peng
York biology Chun Peng in her laboratory. Peng has received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for a study on preeclampsia.

Chun Peng, professor of biology in the Faculty of Science at York University, has been awarded a $225,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for research into preeclampsia. The funding, distributed over three years, part of a special Canada-China Joint Health Research Initiative. Along with co-applicants Dr. Stephen Lye of Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Yanling Wang of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Peng will investigate whether microRNAs can be used as biomarkers for early diagnosis and therapeutic targets of preeclampsia.

“Preeclampsia usually develops after 20 weeks of gestation and affects two to 10 per cent of pregnancies worldwide,” says Peng. “It remains a public health threat in both developed and developing countries and it leads not only to maternal death and still birth, but also carries a life-long impact on both the mother and child.”

More than 10 million women develop preeclampsia each year. Worldwide, over 75,000 pregnant women and 500,000 infants die each year from preeclampsia. Women who survive the disease during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life, while children born from pregnancies where preeclampsia has occurred are at a higher risk of developing hypertension and stroke. Currently, there are no diagnostic tools available to predict the occurrence of preeclampsia.

“One of the major challenges for maternal and perinatal health programs is to develop effective early diagnostic and preventive strategies that will minimize the burden of preeclampsia,” says Peng. “This can be facilitated by collaboration among researchers and clinicians from industrialized and developing nations. With our proven successful collaborations, we are confident that this study will provide novel insights to offer an easy and effective screening tool for preeclampsia.”

“We have identified several microRNAs that are differentially expressed in the plasma and placental tissues between healthy subjects and preeclamptic patients, suggesting that these microRNAs may be used for the diagnosis and treatment of preeclampsia,” says Peng.

Peng currently holds two other CIHR grants, studying ovarian cancer and human placental development. The receipt of a third CIHR grant will allow Peng to continue her highly productive research programs. For more information, visit the Peng Lab webpage.

The China-Canada joint health research initiative aims to promote the development of Canadian-Chinese scientific co-operation between universities, hospitals and research institutions in Canada and China. It is jointly managed and funded by the CIHR and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).