Back in 1999, researcher Marlena Fejzo, PhD, at UCLA and USC lost her baby because of extreme morning sickness. Since then, she’s worked tirelessly to find a reason behind the condition that affects two percent of women. With the help of the DNA company 23andMe, she believes she’s zeroed in on a cause, the first step toward a treatment.
Both of Jennie and Andreas Karrer’s children are healthy. But Jennie was so sick during her pregnancies that some days, she couldn’t get out of bed.
Jennie shared, “It feels like a very bad stomach flu where you want to die because you can’t do anything. You can’t move, you know?”
Moms with hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, get nausea and vomiting, and lose their appetites and drop weight. It can get so bad, they need IV’s, medication, and feeding tubes. Fejzo studied thousands of pregnant moms’ DNA and noticed that proteins from two genes are abnormally high in women with HG.
Fejzo said, "The protein then goes to the brain and signals this loss of appetite and nausea and vomiting in extreme cases. So there’s quite a bit of evidence now that it is a cause.”
Her discovery doesn’t mean relief is coming soon, but it’s a start.
“Finally, we have some answers so we can start to look at therapies that will target those proteins and hopefully lower them safely in pregnancy.” Fejzo stated.
Jennie says treatment for HG would be amazing: “I would be so happy for other moms, and if I were supposed to have another kid, I would be happy for myself, obviously.”
Fejzo has already started research to prove the cause. Then come trials for therapies that she hopes would be safe for pregnant women. Since the two genes are also responsible for a form of extreme nausea that occurs in cancer patients, she’s hoping that drug development will be expedited.