August 2, 2004

UWSOP Receives $2.8 Grant to Study the Pharmacology of Drugs in Pregnant Women

Mary Hebert, associate professor of pharmacy, and her UW team of researchers received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) to research the clinical pharmacology of drugs in pregnant woman. The UW Obstetric Fetal Pharmacology Unit will join three other grant recipients (Georgetown University, University of Pittsburgh and University of Texas, Galveston) in establishing the infrastructure to begin to decipher why drugs are handled differently in pregnant women as opposed to postpartum and what the implications are for the mother and fetus. Lead scientists for each of the four funded centers will meet to determine what issues are most important and develop a scientific strategy for studying drugs in pregnancy over the next five years. The first of these meetings will be held this July in Washington DC. Clinical studies should begin later this year.

“In the drug development arena, pregnant women have been a neglected population,” explains Hebert. “Without research, it is difficult to select the best drugs or doses for a pregnant patient. The work done by the research units funded by NICHD will be able to address the question of how to choose the best drug and the best dosage for a woman during pregnancy.”

On average most women take three drugs while pregnant (not including prenatal vitamins). Chronic illnesses as well as pregnancy induced ailments must be treated during pregnancy; therefore, drug intake during pregnancy is, more often than not, necessary. Scientists up to this point have steered away from studies involving pregnant women. The result is a lack of understanding of what drugs given over the course of pregnancy are doing and how they are affecting the mother and fetus. This lack of knowledge has resulted in many unwanted difficulties and illnesses for expecting mothers.

The NICHD funding of obstetric fetal pharmacology units is the first of its kind and a great honor for UW School of Pharmacy. “We are fortunate at the UW to be a part of a University with resources and capabilities that compete on a national level,” states Hebert. “It is thanks to the caliber of research and professionals at the School that we were able to attain this level of funding.”

Mary Hebert, Pharm.D, is the principal investigator for the University of Washington research unit. She is joined by colleagues, Jashvant Unadkat, professor of pharmaceutics, Thomas Easterling, MD, professor ob/gyn, and Paolo Vicini, associate professor of bio-engineering.

More about Mary Hebert

Hebert’s research has focused primarily on two areas. She first worked in solid organ transplantation and received national recognition for her research in this area. She has since expanded her work into the clinical pharmacology of drugs in obstetrics. Hebert’s interest in the latter arose as a result of her own pregnancies.

“I had a lot of problems during my first pregnancy,” says Hebert “I had to take several different drugs and became very ill. My second pregnancy was just as difficult. My experience and difficulty with drugs during this time made me painfully aware of the lack of research in this area. I decided to do something to change this in order to make situations such as mine safer and easier for pregnant women.”

The NICHD grant will be instrumental in Hebert’s goal of lifting the fog of how drugs work within the pregnant body. Hebert and her colleagues’ research is an important and much needed step in improving the health of women and their fetuses in the future.

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