Dealing With Pregnancy: Associated Risks to Lower Mortality

Enkhmaa Davaasambuu was drawn to science by her physician parents. Her works aim to explain why certain women develop diseases during their pregnancy and possible long-term consequences. Doing so, she hopes to lower the mortality rate for women and children during pregnancy and childbirth.

Despite one of the UN Millennium Development Goals being the improvement of maternal health, maternal mortality is still unacceptably high, with some 800 women in the world dying from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications every day.


In Mongolia, one in five maternal deaths occurs as a result of preeclampsia, a condition combining high blood pressure with significantly high rates of protein in the urine. During her fellowship, Enkhmaa Davaasambuu wants to investigate why women who have survived this condition during pregnancy have double the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.


Studies have revealed that in susceptible patients, preeclampsia is caused by the release of hormones and other proteins from the placenta. These proteins are thought to damage the thin layer of endothelial cells that line blood vessels, causing an imbalance between vasodilating and vasoconstricting substances and, a consequent increase in blood pressure. As similar damage is seen in cardiovascular pathologies, this may explain the association of preeclampsia with later cardiovascular disease.


Endothelial function can be measured using the non-invasive technique of arterial tonography, which measures both the stiffness of the artery walls and the pulse wave velocity generated when the contracting heart creates an energy wave that travels through the circulatory system. The speed of travel of this pulse wave is related to the stiffness of the arteries.


In an ongoing international study in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Enkhmaa has already started to collect arterial tonometry data on 60 Mongolian women. She will compare endothelial function before, during and postpartum. The outcome will reveal if preeclampsia precedes or postdates the pregnancy.


During her fellowship in United States, she will learn new methods of measuring endothelial function and gain new skills in data collection and analysis, as well as innovative study design and epidemiology, so that she can take her research further independently. On return to Mongolia, she will be well prepared to design further studies in order to develop novel screening and prevention protocols tailored to young women’s personal cardiovascular disease risk profiles before and after pregnancy, to increase their chances of remaining healthy later in life.

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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