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July 20, 2004

UW School of Pharmacy researcher receives $2.8 million grant for study of medications in pregnant women

Dr. Mary Hebert, associate professor of pharmacy, and her University of Washington team of researchers have received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institution of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) to research the clinical pharmacology of drugs in pregnant woman. The UW Obstetric Fetal Pharmacology Unit includes Hebert, Dr. Jashvant Unadkat, professor of pharmaceutics, Dr. Thomas Easterling, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and Dr Paolo Vicini, associate professor of bioengineering.

The UW will join three other grant recipients (Georgetown University, University of Pittsburgh and University of Texas, Galveston) to begin to decipher why drugs are handled differently in pregnant women compared to postpartum women, as well as what the implications are for the mother and fetus. Hebert and the other lead scientists for 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. Clinical studies should begin later this year.

“In the drug development arena, pregnant women have been a neglected population,” explained 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 sometimes necessary. Scientists up to this point have steered away from studies involving pregnant women. The result is a lack of understanding of the actions of drugs given over the course of pregnancy and how they are affecting the mother and fetus. This lack of knowledge has resulted in difficulties in managing illness during pregnancy.

The NICHD funding of obstetric fetal pharmacology units is the first of its kind. “We are fortunate at the UW to be a part of a university with resources and capabilities to compete on a national level,” Hebert said. “It is thanks to the high caliber of researchers and the work that is being done at the University of Washington that we are able to attain this level of funding.”

Since its creation by Congress in 1962, NICHD’s mission has encompassed research across the life span. This includes development before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD research over the past 40 years has led to advances enabling millions of people in this country and around the world to lead healthier lives.


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