A blood test could help doctors predict if a pregnant woman is likely to develop a life-threatening condition called preeclampsia, a new study finds.
The test is more accurate than current methods of predicting preeclampsia, the researchers report.
Preeclampsia is characterized by the onset of high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine.
Seventy-five percent of women with preeclampsia were positive on this test. Among women who tested positive, 32% developed preeclampsia. Future research may increase prediction accuracy by combining these results with other biomarkers of preeclampsia, says study collaborator Claudia Holzman, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University.
“It’s a beginning,” Holzman says. “This study also identified markers of pregnancy progress, a stepping stone for insights into how the biology is changing over the course of the pregnancy.”
Researchers used stored blood samples from eight diverse pregnancy cohorts to chart changes across pregnancy. Two of these cohorts specifically contributed to the preeclampsia analyses, including the Pregnancy Outcomes and Community Health, or POUCH, study, initiated by Holzman in 1998 to identify causes of preterm delivery.
Hundreds of blood samples from women in that study were made available for this later study and were analyzed for levels of molecules called cell-free RNA. These biomarkers not only could help predict the risk of developing preeclampsia but could accurately determine how many weeks along a pregnancy is.
Although the current study focused on preeclampsia, similar approaches may be applicable to predicting other pregnancy complications, such as stillbirth and preterm birth.
Preeclampsia occurs in about 5%-7% of pregnancies and can damage multiple organ systems. It is a leading cause of severe maternal and neonatal illness and death. The disease generally appears late in pregnancy, although it often originates much earlier when the placenta is established.
Earlier diagnosis could help doctors more closely monitor the blood pressure of women at risk of developing preeclampsia and counsel them on the warning signs, Holzman says.
More than 350 blood samples from the POUCH study kept in a biorepository at MSU were submitted for analysis in this current study, she says.
“It’s a reminder that a study started long ago remains useful,” Holzman says. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving.”
The study appears in Nature.
Initiators of the project included a San Francisco company called Mirvie that developed the test along with researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Source: Michigan State University