Secret broccoli ingredient may hold key to preeclampsia treatment

This discovery of the potential therapeutic benefits of a naturally occurring compound found in broccoli has earned two scientists a prestigious $10 000 award to progress their preeclampsia research.

Dr Emily Gulliver and Dr Sarah Marshall at Hudson Institute
Dr Emily Gulliver and Dr Sarah Marshall

Key points:

  • Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys
  • A compound found in broccoli and also supplements called sulforaphane may modify the gut microbiota to help women with preeclampsia, by reducing dysfunction in blood vessels
  • $10 000 has been awarded to two scientists to progress their research.

Hudson Institute Postdoctoral Scientist Dr Emily Gulliver, and Dr Sarah Marshall, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at Monash University have been awarded this year’s C. Andrew Ramsden Monash Health Translation Precinct Early Career Researcher (MHTP ECR) Collaborative Award.

Dr Gulliver and Dr Marshall received the $10 000 award for their collaborative project investigating if the broccoli compound can modify the gut microbiota to improve the health of women with preeclampsia.

Dr Marshall has recently shown that sulforaphane, a naturally occurring bioactive compound in broccoli, can reduce dysfunction in the blood vessels in preeclampsia. It also occurs when eating broccoli, but the concentrations are higher in the supplement.

Dr Gulliver and Dr Marshall will use this preliminary collaborative project to assess the effect of sulforaphane on common gut bacteria. They then plan to perform a larger future investigation to see if the compound can positively change pregnancy-specific microbiota, including that of the gut and the vagina.

“This award is the perfect opportunity for Emily and I to join forces and explore whether sulforaphane can be of benefit to the gut microbiome,” Dr Marshall said. “This has been an important question for us and I’m excited to see what this collaboration will achieve.”

Dr Gulliver said: “This will provide us with opportunities to understand the involvement of the microbiome in sulforaphane’s action. By bringing together our skills, Sarah and I have the potential to unlock new ways to treat preeclampsia by focusing on the microbiome.”

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal.

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