Urschitz, Johann PhD

Pilot Project PI
Emerging Investigator - Perinatal, Growth, and Developmental Health
Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology
John A. Burns School of Medicine


Research Overview

2011-2012 RMATRIX Collaboration Pilot Projects Program Awards

Project Description

Title: Correlation of Genetic Risk Factors with Gestational Diabetes and Preeclampsia in Women from Hawaii
Principal Investigator: Johann Urschitz, PhD, Dept. of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology, UH JABSOM
Co-Principal Investigator: Janet Burlingame, MD, Dept. of Obstetrics & Gynecology, UH JABSOM
Collaborator: Thomas Slavin, MD, Dept. of Pediatrics, UH JABSOM
RMATRIX HEALTH Initiative(s): Perinatal Growth & Developmental Health; Nutrition & Metabolic Health
RMATRIX Key Function Support: Research Design & Biostatistics Support; Research Ethics & Regulatory Knowledge and Support
RMATRIX Funding: $21,428


Correlation of Genetic Risk Factors with Gestational Diabetes and Preeclampsia in Women from Hawaii

Pregnancy complication rates vary between ethnic groups. For example, among Asian and Pacific Islander populations preeclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) are highest in women of Filipino descent, followed by Chinese, Japanese and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. With the large population of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the State of Hawaii, both preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are the most common pregnancy complications. Additionally, it has also been shown that preeclampsia and GDM increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (T2DM), respectively, in both the acute and remote postpartum periods. These findings are supported by the fact that the rate of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the overall population are also higher in the State of Hawaii than in other US states. Four to eight percent of all pregnant women develop GDM and six to eight percent develop hypertensive disorders. It has previously been demonstrated that both T2DM and GDM are polygenic, multifactorial diseases and are likely to be manifestations of similar pathophysiological processes. Recent genome-wide-association studies have revealed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in novel regions associated with T2DM in several European cohorts. In this study we propose to investigate possible associations of these polymorphisms with GDM in Caucasian and Filipino women. It is also possible that genetic polymorphisms may elucidate potential predisposing risk factors for both hypertensive diseases of pregnancy and cardiovascular disease. Betaadrenergic receptor polymorphisms have already been implicated in the development and treatment of cardiovascular disease and women with preeclampsia are predisposed to the later development of cardiovascular disease. We therefore choose to investigate polymorphisms in the beta1- and beta2-adrenergic receptors in women diagnosed with preeclampsia in our local population. In this proposal we aim to identify polymorphisms in several genes either associated with GDM or with preeclampsia in minority populations. By expanding upon our preliminary data we hope to obtain statistically significant and potentially clinically relevant findings. In summary, we hope to identify SNPs that could be used as predictors, or lead to future research to find the underlying cause, of these common pregnancy complications in predominant ethnic groups in Hawaii. These markers may also serve as links between the development of preeclampsia and GDM and the later development of cardiovascular disease and T2DM. Additionally, the findings may facilitate the development of earlier diagnosis techniques and more targeted interventions for T2DM and cardiovascular disease in the general population.

Selected Publications

  • Hiraoka M, Urschitz J, Sultan O, Ward K.
    A Polymorphism in the Retinol Binding Protein 4 Gene is Not Associated with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Several Different Ethnic Groups.
    Hawaii Med J 2011 [more...]

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