A Diagnostic Blood Test for Preeclampsia May Soon Be Available
For women who have experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy, it is an extraordinarily stressful experience. Preeclampsia usually arises suddenly and requires constant monitoring because it’s a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. The complication interferes with blood flow to the placenta and possibly to the fetus, and can lead to low birth weight, prematurity and even death. It is also a major cause of maternal mortality in India.
But in an exciting new development, just announced in a paper in Scientific Reports, a new study out of Tel Aviv University identifies molecular biomarkers of preeclampsia, signaling the potential for an early diagnostic blood test.
Despite its prevalence — up to 10% of pregnant women may develop preeclampsia — diagnosis has never been preventative, or particularly exact. Most cases aren’t evident until the second or third trimester. Until now, medical practitioners have assessed a woman’s risk of preeclampsia by referring to previous pregnancies, blood pressure levels and other general symptoms, but those are notoriously vague and unreliable.
“We sought a definitive biomarker that appears in a patient’s blood as early as the first trimester, before any symptoms appear,” explains Dr. Noam Shomron, of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and the study’s lead author. “Our findings form the basis for a simple blood test that would predict preeclampsia and, in turn, allow doctors to provide treatment that would prevent the very onset of the disease.”
The research was done over the course of six years, with blood samples from thousands of pregnant women in their first trimester from clinics in the UK. The researchers extracted the RNA molecules (snippets of molecular information present in human cells) from the plasma of the samples and sequenced these.
Dr. Shomron notes that if preeclampsia is caught in time, it can be easily treated with low doses of aspirin from the 16th week of pregnancy onward. A diagnostic blood test would allow women to avail of this simple solution and prevent the onset of any potentially life-threatening symptoms of preeclampsia that might arise in the second or third trimesters.