Just one blood sample can help identify women at risk for pre-eclampsia – study

A single blood sample can detect pregnant women at risk for pre-eclampsia, according to a new study.

The researchers analyzed the blood of pregnant women and found genetic material to identify those at risk.

They suggested their findings could help spot complications before symptoms appear.

Pre-eclampsia mainly affects women during the second half of pregnancy and is often found during checks for high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

In some cases, women may experience swelling in the feet, ankles, face, and hands, severe headaches, vision problems, or pain just below the ribs.

The condition affects up to one in 12 pregnancies and is a significant cause of maternal morbidity. It is also a cause of a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

While most cases of pre-eclampsia are diagnosed in the third trimester when the woman has symptoms, the researchers suggest this study could widen the window of detection and lead to faster intervention.

Professor Rachel Tribe, from the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at King’s College London, said: “Using a state-of-the-art sequencing approach, we were able to detect cell-free RNA (cfRNA) in the blood of women pregnant.

“These provided a molecular signature that can be used to identify women at risk for pre-eclampsia.

“Excitingly, this requires only one blood sample and has the potential to identify at-risk women much earlier in pregnancy so they can be more closely monitored and treated by the clinicians involved.”

The team studied 2,500 blood samples from cohorts that included multiple ethnicities, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic locations.

They looked at anonymized cell-free RNA (cfRNA) profiles — signals from fetal and pregnant mother tissues — that reflect fetal development and healthy pregnancy progression.

Researchers hope the test can be expanded to investigate other pregnancy complications (Katie Collins/PA)

Researchers have identified signals that deviate from those of a healthy pregnancy.

Using machine learning to analyze tens of thousands of RNA messages from mother, baby and placenta, the Mirvie RNA platform can identify 75% of women who develop pre-eclampsia, according to the study.

Researchers hope this test can be expanded to study other pregnancy complications, such as premature delivery.

The study, published in Nature, involved researchers from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Mirvie.

The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) through the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Center and an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship.

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