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."