Could New Blood Test Predict Pregnancy Complications?

Written by Dennis Mann HealthDay Reporter >

Thursday, January 6, 2022 — A simple blood test may help identify pregnant women at risk of pre-eclampsia — dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy — before it becomes a threat to both mother and baby.

Due to a sudden rise in blood pressure, protein in the urine, or other problems during pregnancy, preeclampsia occurs in about 1 in 25 pregnancies in the United States, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prices seem to be going up.

Pre-eclampsia can increase the risk of serious health problems for mothers and children, including premature birth, but many women do not have clear risk factors for the condition, making complications difficult to overcome.

But when the researchers used machine learning to analyze genetic material known as cell-free RNA (cfRNA) in mothers’ and children’s blood and placentas, they identified 75% of women who would go on to have pre-eclampsia and premature birth about three months before pre-eclampsia occurs. Symptoms appeared.

The test is in development by Mirvie, a San Francisco biotech company that funded the new research. A company spokesperson said he expects an update on the availability of the new test later this year.

The researchers first deciphered the pattern of gene expression in normal pregnancies.

“Once we know the gene pattern that is normal throughout pregnancy, it becomes possible to determine which patients deviate from normal,” explained lead study author Dr. Thomas McElrath. He is an attending physician in maternal-fetal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School.

“There are seven genes that, when activated, indicate an increased risk of pre-eclampsia,” McElrath said.

The study included RNA in more than 2,500 blood samples from 1,840 women in the United States, Europe and Africa. McElrath said factors such as age, race and the mother’s body mass did not affect how well the test worked.

“This suggests that we’re moving on to the basic biology of what happens in preeclampsia,” he noted.

The greatest risk of pre-eclampsia is a history of complications in a previous pregnancy, McElrath said, but that doesn’t help first-time moms.

Knowing you’re at risk of pre-eclampsia before symptoms appear gives doctors a chance to intervene and possibly prevent or prevent its development, he said. This may include a regimen of low-dose aspirin daily, increased monitoring throughout pregnancy, and home blood pressure measurement.

“If the disease becomes more likely, we can treat you with steroids so that the baby is protected from prematurity,” McElrath added.

He noted that preeclampsia is just a test case. McElrath said this new technology could eventually help identify other pregnancy-related complications early, such as gestational diabetes and preterm labor.

The new findings were published January 5 in the journal temper nature.

There are still many doctors who don’t know about preeclampsia and why it occurs, said Dr. Yalda Afshar, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“We don’t understand the disease, and it has very significant clinical consequences for the health of pregnancy and the health of mother and child for life,” said Afshar, who was not involved in the new research.

“The new test identifies what a normal pregnancy does and may help tell us when someone will have pre-eclampsia so we can arrange their care, but we have a lot of work to do,” she added.

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