Biomarker could predict preeclampsia in pregnant women

In diagnosing pregnant women, doctors often struggle to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a severe form of the ailment that can lead to organ damage and fetal complications. Now, a new biomarker has shown promise to better predict which women are at risk for the disease, lighting the way for early intervention and better outcomes.

In a study of 625 pregnant women published in Circulation, researchers at London's King's College discovered that low levels of the protein placental growth factor (PlGF) correlated with the development of preeclampsia, and a decline in PlGF led to an increased risk for premature delivery, pointing to an effective diagnostic.

To date, preeclampsia tests have been able only to detect whether a patient has already developed the disease, King's College's Lucy Chappell said, often providing results after the onset of symptoms like damage to the kidneys, liver and brain.

"The test identifies women at high risk for developing preeclampsia, so doctors can better monitor and treat the blood pressure," Chappell said in a statement. "It also prevents unnecessary hospitalizations of those who are not likely to develop preeclampsia."

Chappell and her colleagues believe tracking PlGF could help steer treatment of high-risk patients and better rule out women with basic hypertension, but the researchers recommend further study to determine how changing diagnostic and treatment methods affect the health of mothers and babies.

On the commercial side, Alere ($ALR) has developed a PlGF measuring test, called Triage, and is in the midst of the FDA process.

- read the announcement
- check out the abstract