Research may lead to early detection of life-threatening pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is one of the more common complications of pregnancy. Symptoms can include high blood pressure, protein in urine and sudden excessive swelling of the face, hands and feet in the third trimester.

If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can affect fetal growth, and may lead to stroke and other life-threatening problems for the mother.

One significant challenge in the management of preeclampsia is identifying pregnant women who will develop the condition before they present with clinical symptoms.

Professor Guiying Nie’s team in the Centre for Reproductive Health at Hudson Institute of Medical Research has developed assays for a protein called HtrA3 that could be used to detect pre-eclampsia in pregnancy much earlier.

In a recently published study the team analysed blood samples taken from pregnant women at 11 to 13 weeks gestation.

Significantly higher levels of the long isoform of HtrA3 (HtrA3-L) were detected in the blood samples of patients who went on to develop late-onset pre-eclampsia (after 34 weeks gestation).

Meanwhile, significantly lower ratios of HrtA3-L/ HtrA3-T (all forms of HtrA3) were present in the blood samples of patients who would develop early-onset pre-eclampsia (before 34 weeks gestation).

“This data supports the use of these assays for early detection of pre-eclampsia,” Prof Nie says.

“These findings may be further explored to detect late-onset pre-eclampsia (which occurs in 5 to 8 per cent of all pregnancies), as well as early-onset pre-eclampsia (which often is severe and occurs in 0.5 to 1 per cent of pregnancies), well before the complication happens to reduce the risk of harm to mother and baby.”

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