Why are Pregnant African Americans at an Increased Risk for Preeclampsia

Wendy Kuohung, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Program at BUSM, was recently honored with a one-year, $23,275 Ferring Innovation Grant for Racial Equality in Reproductive Medicine and Maternal Health.

Kuohung, whose research interests include placental development, will study how genetic variants may predispose pregnant African Americans to an increased risk for preeclampsia—a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure.

Pregnant African Americans are more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than whites, and in pregnant African Americans, the leading cause of death includes hypertensive disorders such as preeclampsia. “Despite the higher fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality in African Americans due to preeclampsia, our current understanding of the genetic predisposition to preeclampsia and its underlying etiologies is rudimentary,” said Kuohung.

Kuohung hopes that knowledge gained from her study will advance the understanding of preeclampsia and provide insight into how genotypes contribute to racial disparities in reproductive health outcomes and may identify biomarkers for early detection and new therapeutic targets. “Early surveillance and preventive measures may help to rectify longstanding racial disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality experienced by African Americans due to preeclampsia and preterm birth,” said Kuohung, who also is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Boston Medical Center (BMC).

Kuohung received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine. She performed her obstetrics and gynecology residency at BMC and a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She has a special interest in infertility and in vitro fertilization, fertility preservation, menstrual disorders, fibroids and endometriosis, minimally invasive and robotic gynecologic surgery. In addition to placental development, her research interests include microbiome of the reproductive tract and reproductive tract health in transgender men.

The Ferring Innovation Grants Programme for Racial Equality in Reproductive Medicine and Maternal Health aims to fund projects in basic and translational research, clinical research, epidemiology and prevention research and social science research.