The role of aspirin, heparin, and other interventions in the prevention and treatment of fetal growth restriction

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Abstract

Fetal growth restriction and related placental pathologies such as preeclampsia, stillbirth, and placental abruption are believed to arise in early pregnancy when inadequate remodeling of the maternal spiral arteries leads to persistent high-resistance and low-flow uteroplacental circulation. The consequent placental ischaemia, reperfusion injury, and oxidative stress are associated with an imbalance in angiogenic/antiangiogenic factors. Many interventions have centered on the prevention and/or treatment of preeclampsia with results pertaining to fetal growth restriction and small-for-gestational-age pregnancy often included as secondary outcomes because of the common pathophysiology. This renders the study findings less reliable for determining clinical significance. For the prevention of fetal growth restriction, a recent large-study level meta-analysis and individual patient data meta-analysis confirm that aspirin modestly reduces small-for-gestational-age pregnancy in women at high risk (relative risk, 0.90, 95% confidence interval, 0.81–1.00) and that a dose of ≥100 mg should be recommended and to start at or before 16 weeks of gestation. These findings support national clinical practice guidelines. In vitro and in vivo studies suggest that low-molecular-weight heparin may prevent fetal growth restriction; however, evidence from randomized control trials is inconsistent. A meta-analysis of multicenter trial data does not demonstrate any positive preventative effect of low-molecular-weight heparin on a primary composite outcome of placenta-mediated complications including fetal growth restriction (18% vs 18%; absolute risk difference, 0.6%; 95% confidence interval, 10.4–9.2); use of low-molecular-weight heparin for the prevention of fetal growth restriction should remain in the research setting. There are even fewer treatment options once fetal growth restriction is diagnosed. At present the only management option if the risk of hypoxia, acidosis, and intrauterine death is high is iatrogenic preterm birth, with the use of peripartum maternal administration of magnesium sulphate for neuroprotection and corticosteroids for fetal lung maturity, to prevent adverse neonatal outcomes. The pipeline of potential therapies use different strategies, many aiming to increase fetal growth by improving poor placentation and uterine blood flow. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors that potentiate nitric oxide availability such as sildenafil citrate have been extensively researched both in preclinical and clinical studies; results from the Sildenafil Therapy In Dismal Prognosis Early-Onset Intrauterine Growth Restriction consortium of randomized control clinical trials are keenly awaited. Targeting the uteroplacental circulation with novel therapeutics is another approach, the most advanced being maternal vascular endothelial growth factor gene therapy, which is being translated into the clinic via the doEs Vascular endothelial growth factor gene therapy safEly impRove outcome in seveRe Early-onset fetal growth reSTriction consortium. Other targeting approaches include nanoparticles and microRNAs to deliver drugs locally to the uterine arterial endothelium or trophoblast. In vitro and in vivo studies and animal models have demonstrated effects of nitric oxide donors, dietary nitrate, hydrogen sulphide donors, statins, and proton pump inhibitors on maternal blood pressure, uteroplacental resistance indices, and angiogenic/antiangiogenic factors. Data from human pregnancies and, in particular, pregnancies with fetal growth restriction remain very limited. Early research into melatonin, creatine, and N-acetyl cysteine supplementation in pregnancy suggests they may have potential as neuro- and cardioprotective agents in fetal growth restriction.

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