By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A national research study published Thursday reports that a blood test can spot signs of preeclampsia - a potentially deadly complication of pregnancy - more than five weeks before the condition sets in.
While doctors say the finding could lead to new life-saving treatments, it likely will be years before pregnant women can get the tests on a routine basis.
The study, described in the New England Journal of Medicine, was led by the National Institute of Child Health and Development and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. One co-author was Dr. Baha Sibai, chairman of obstetrics at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
"Preeclampsia ... is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide and a major cause of preterm delivery," Dr. Sibai said. "Predicting preeclampsia is a major step towards saving the lives of many women."
The researchers studied blood from more than 200 women. They found that a protein called sFlt-1 goes up before preeclampsia sets in while a growth factor called PlGF goes down.
In theory, spotting these trends could lead to better medications.
"By controlling these factors, a new drug might be able to assist in normal placenta development, which could reduce the risks of preeclampsia," said Dr. Kim Brady, director of obstetrics at Good Samaritan Hospital.
But right now, routine blood testing is not available. Developing new treatments could take years, Brady said, because careful testing will be required to make sure the medications don't hurt developing babies.
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