A new diagnostic test being developed by a Kiwi biochemist could help save the lives of pregnant women and their babies.

Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening condition for both mother and child that occurs in around five per cent of pregnancies, and often requires early delivery of the baby.

Dr Jennifer Crowther, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Canterbury, said it remained one of the leading causes of maternal and foetal disease and death worldwide.

Being able to predict the risk for pre-eclamptic complications earlier could help doctors intervene with specialised care, close monitoring and targeted interventions.

A key indication of pre-eclampsia was higher levels of a specific protein in the mother’s blood.

A test being developed by Crowther would quantify the level of that protein in blood, to identify individuals at risk of developing the condition.

A predictive diagnostic test would be used in medical laboratories using samples collected as part of the regular check-up process for pregnant women.

“The clinical presentation of pre-eclampsia is diverse, often making correct and timely diagnosis difficult,” she said.

“While tests are available to assist in the diagnosis of established pre-eclampsia, these tests do not yet reliably predict the development of pre-eclampsia.”

Current guidelines relied on the measurement of blood pressure and protein in the urine, however, these measurements had relatively low predictive accuracy.

“We need to increase the positive predictive power of tests for pre-eclampsia,” she said.

This would allow those at risk to be closely monitored, while ruling out those who would not develop the condition.

“Risk factors for pre-eclampsia include obesity, existing hypertension and diabetes and given the increasing rates of obesity and high blood pressure nationally, this is a major health concern in New Zealand.”

Crowther was recently awarded $100,000 from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation to carry out her research.

Source: NZ Herald

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