A new blood test that may predict the onset of preeclampsia, a common and often deadly condition affecting pregnant women, has been developed by Melbourne researchers.
Professor Shaun Brennecke, from the Royal Women's Hospital, is leading a trial of a simple test that measures blood proteins released from the placenta during pregnancy and said the results are promising.
This test will eliminate false alarm cases and allow resources to focus on those who are going on to develop the condition.
"When it comes to this condition, there are two things you would like to predict: you'd like to know which women are at high risk of developing it and which women are not. This is where this test comes in and so far, we have seen optimistic results," Brennecke, Director of the Department of Maternal-Foetal Medicine at the Royal Women's Hospital told The Huffington Post Australia.
What is it?
Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that occurs, mildly, in about five to ten percent of pregnancies and, severely, in one percent. Women are affected by the condition when their placenta releases toxins that spread throughout their body affecting organs and blood vessels as well the foetus, stunting their baby's growth.
In Australia, it accounts for 15 percent of direct maternal mortality. And there is currently no cure.
"Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-induced disorder so the treatment is essentially ending the pregnancy. Although you can offer some treatment to help stabilise the mother, you can't cure the condition until you deliver her baby and placenta," Brennecke said.
Treatment for preeclampsia currently involves a series of prenatal visits, blood tests and ultrasounds that are more frequent than what is expected in an uncomplicated pregnancy.
Currently, preeclampsia is detected through antenatal care once it has appeared.
"Some women who are checked into an antenatal clinic may have features suspicious of the possibility of preeclampsia, but not yet a sufficiently high level to make the diagnosis. These women need to be monitored more closely -- an intervention that represents an imposition on the mother and a cost to the hospital," Brennecke said.
According to Brennecke, only 20 percent of those who are admitted for surveillance will go on to have the condition.
The benefit of this test is that you can make a much more reliable assessment of who is high risk.
The blood test measures two specific proteins (or angiogenic biomarkers) released from the placenta that have been found in the blood of women with preeclampsia.
"One blood factor is markedly increased in preeclampsia and the other is reduced. By combining those two tests, we can discriminate those who are high-risk of preeclampsia and those who aren't," Brennecke said.
Professor Brennecke said successful prediction of preeclampsia through the test can improve management options for both mother and baby.
"If a woman has low test results, the trial data shows she will have a 99 percent chance of not developing preeclampsia over the subsequent week and a 95 percent chance over the next month," Brennecke said.
"That women can be safely sent home without concern and continue with her routine visits."
If a woman has high test results, she has a 40 percent chance of going on to develop preeclampsia.
"That women can be subjected to a more intensive regimen of surveillance with confidence that you're not wasting her time nor hospital resources to do so."
Whilst the test is not yet available, outside of the current trial, Brennecke is optimistic about a national roll-out.
"This test requires further assessments to measure its cost effectiveness in Australia. However the likelihood is we will be able to build a case for justifying this test and getting it Medicare-scheduled."
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