Dr. Peter von Dadelszen, a Clinician Scientist at CFRI and a world authority on diagnosing and treating pre-eclampsia, has received the 2012 Knowledge Translation Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Pre-eclampsia — the sudden onset of high blood pressure during pregnancy — is the second-leading cause of maternal death worldwide, resulting in 76,000 women dying each year, almost all of them in lower- and middle-income countries. The condition can lead to seizures (eclampsia), stroke or failure of the lungs, kidneys or liver. Treatment involves hospitalization until delivery, so that the mother’s blood pressure can be managed, her seizures prevented and her delivery induced.

Dr. von Dadelszen’s research spans basic science, clinical research and health services evaluations. He and his trainees have published 130 articles in high-impact journals, and he was the lead author for guidelines issued by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada for diagnosis and management of pre-elampsia and for use of magnesium sulphate treatment prior to labour to prevent cerebral palsy. He also was a contributing author of the 2011 World Health Organization’s guidelines for the prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.

Dr. von Dadelszen, the Co-Director of the Reproduction & Healthy Pregnancy research cluster at CFRI, led the development and testing of a standardized surveillance tool for detecting and managing pre-eclampsia to prevent maternal and newborn complications. That work led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2010 to award Dr. von Dadelszen and his team $7 million to test a battery of new strategies for monitoring, preventing and treating pre-eclampsia in the developing world. The project is unfolding in 11 countries in Africa, South Asia, Asia-Oceania and Latin America.

“Many women are moribund, or dead, by the time they are seen by someone who can help,” Dr. von Dadelszen says. “The idea is to reach into the community to make a difference.”

One component of the project will test his method for diagnosing pre-eclampsia and assessing the degree of risk, based either on the woman’s symptoms, clinical examination and simple lab tests, or without any lab tests whatsoever.

The Gates grant also is funding the creation of a “treatment pipeline” that extends from remote villages to properly-equipped medical facilities in urban centres. Community health workers are being trained to use his diagnostic and risk-assessment tool, and to administer an anti-hypertensive drug to prevent strokes and magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. The pipeline will include a protocol for transporting women to hospitals that provide more extensive care.

The award – which includes a $100,000 prize — honours and supports an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to increasing the application of research findings, improving the health of Canadians, health services or products, or strengthening the health care system.