9-90™ is a groundbreaking study that looks at how pregnancy impacts our lifelong health—from 9 months to 90+ years. The program creates an infrastructure for bringing together researchers from different disciplines, from geneticists, biologists, and epidemiologists, to people who study decisions. In each issue of Magee Magazine, we look at some current questions the investigators are tackling.
What is the focus of your research in the 9-90 study?
We’re trying to understand what pregnancy can teach us about heart disease in women later in life.
There are profound vascular adaptations that are required to support a healthy pregnancy that can be seen on the maternal side of the placenta, for vascular impairments that might be a clue to people who are going to progress to hypertension, or masked hypertension, in the years after pregnancy. We’re also bringing women in for a research visit 8-10 years after pregnancy. We’re teaching them to measure their blood pressure at home using a valid home blood pressure device. We’re leveraging this opportunity of pregnancy as a “stress test” that might help us understand who is at risk for heart disease and also what are some of the mechanisms that might link problems in pregnancy to heart disease later in life.
How does the placenta shed light on a woman’s health?
There’s a fetal side of the placenta, and there’s also a maternal side. There are profound vascular adaptations that are required to support a healthy pregnancy that can be seen on the maternal side of the placenta, and we hypothesize that even small impairments might be an early marker of a woman who may have some underlying higher risk for vascular disease down the road. During this biologic stressor that we call a normal healthy pregnancy, the placenta might give us a diary about how the underlying vascular health of that mom during pregnancy might be important for her long-term health.
Does being at Magee make it easier to find and follow these women?
Absolutely. We have a registry with all the clinical data of births at Magee going back to 1995, including information about the placenta if it was evaluated. While we have this rich clinical data, we also have the ability to reach out to folks who had a baby at Magee 8-10 years ago and ask if they’d like to be a part of our study. So we have great data and a stable population. We also have the excellent reputation of Magee. You put those pieces together, and we have such a powerful place to study these lifelong associations that are in the 9-90 spirit.
What is next in your research as it relates to 9-90?
In the future, we’d like the chance to begin to test interventions. If we can recognize risk factors for heart disease at the time of pregnancy, what can we do to actually change that course? How can we take that information and test some new interventions to improve a woman’s health in the immediate term, as well as help her future pregnancies and reduce her risk for heart disease later in life. Because we’re at Magee, it gives us a great opportunity to do that kind of work moving forward.
How important is funding to your research and other projects under 9-90?
With its foundation, one of the other benefits at Magee is that philanthropy often supports the most innovative, new ideas. To acquire large grants, we need very compelling preliminary data that says we have a new, promising idea. It’s often philanthropic dollars that help us do our proof of principle for the next, best, innovative breakthrough.