Preeclampsia is a dangerous pregnancy complication that can lead to premature delivery and even death. It affects up to 7% of all pregnancies and kills 70,000 women around the world each year. But now School of Medicine researchers have discovered a way to identify women at risk.
Researchers led by Charles E. Chalfant, PhD, went looking for "biomarkers" -- biological indicators -- in the blood of pregnant women that could signal they were in danger of developing preeclampsia. The scientists examined blood plasma from 57 women in their first 24 weeks of pregnancy, then looked at whether the women went on to develop preeclampsia.
The researchers found there was an incriminating "lipid fingerprint" that indicated preeclampsia risk. In short, there were significant differences in bioactive lipids in the plasma of women who went on to develop preeclampsia and those who did not.
That suggests that simple blood tests could be used to screen women to determine if they need preventative treatment -- low-dose aspirin regimens are commonly used -- or closer monitoring during their pregnancy.
“The application of our comprehensive lipid profiling method to routine obstetrical care could significantly reduce maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality,” Professor Chalfant said. “It represents an example of how personalized medicine could address a significant public health challenge.”