Scientists are hoping to make a breakthrough in the treatment of pre-eclampsia by using heart drugs on pregnant mothers showing early signs of the potentially fatal disease.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have found that statins, which are prescribed to treat heart disease, could help reduce two proteins linked to pre-eclampsia.

Each year, pre-eclampsia claims 70,000 lives and is responsible for four million premature births annually. If successful, the trial could provide a cost effective life-saving treatment.

Professor Asif Ahmed, of Edinburgh University's centre for cardiovascular science and lead for the study, said: "This is the first stage, but we are confident that taking a scientific approach to find a way to alleviate pre-eclampsia would enable us to prolong affected pregnancies, improving the outcome for both the baby and the expectant mother.

"If successful this could help provide cheap, widely available therapy against pre-eclampsia which could help reduce maternal and infant deaths across the world."

The research is being funded by the Medical Research Council.

 Pregnancy photo