Date Published: 1 June 2009
Research reveals early warning signs of preeclampsia
Research initiated at The University of Auckland has identified a set of proteins in the blood of pregnant women that may predict the development of preeclampsia.
"The discovery of these biomarkers opens the way for development of a potential screening test for preeclampsia," says lead investigator Professor Robyn North. At present there is no method to identify first-time mothers who will develop the serious condition.
"If women at high risk of preeclampsia could be identified early in pregnancy, they could be offered intervention to prevent it and more intensive monitoring to enable earlier detection of the condition. Earlier detection would prevent some women developing severe complications such as seizures, liver impairment and kidney failure."
Preeclampsia occurs in between 4% and 7% of first pregnancies. It affects around 1,650 New Zealand women each year and 8 million women worldwide, and is potentially life-threatening for mother and child.
It typically occurs late in pregnancy but, according to the research, women who develop preeclampsia have altered blood proteins at a much earlier stage.
The findings come from the landmark SCOPE (Screening of Pregnancy Endpoints) study, an international screening study of pregnant women. Women participating in SCOPE provided blood samples at 20 weeks of gestation and the outcome of their pregnancy was followed.
The blood protein profile of women who went on to develop preeclampsia was found to be significantly different than those who had uncomplicated pregnancies. A set of 33 proteins were present at abnormal levels prior to development of preeclampsia, and could form part of a future test to classify which women are at risk of preeclampsia or not.
The proteins identified will now undergo further investigation in validation studies involving several thousand women.
Preeclampsia is believed to be caused by substances released from the placenta that trigger problems in the mother's circulation. The proteins identified in the research are consistent with the biological processes though to contribute to preeclampsia, providing further insight into how it may develop.
"The proteins also overlap with those bound to so-called 'good' cholesterol," says Professor North. "Women who develop preeclampsia are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and our findings hint at how the two conditions may be linked."