Scientists in the UK will test whether heart disease drugs, known as statins, can be used to treat pregnant women with pre-eclampsia.

The University of Edinburgh will conduct a trial to investigate whether statins can prevent the potentially fatal disease, which is responsible for around four million premature births worldwide each year.

Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure and inflammation of the lining of blood vessels, and can also cause kidney and liver damage.

Research shows that statins, which are prescribed to lower heart disease, could decrease the amounts of two proteins that are linked to inducing pre-eclampsia – soluble FLt-1 and soluble endoglin.

The trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, will involve pregnant women in the UK diagnosed with very early-onset pre-eclampsia.

Chair of reproductive vascular biology professor Asif Ahmed said, ‘If successful this could help provide cheap, widely available therapy against pre-eclampsia, which could help reduce maternal and infant deaths across the world.’