Study could help predict deadly pregnancy complication

Pregnancy Blood Clots
Posted at 8:06 PM, Feb 16, 2022

EAST LANSING Mich. (WSYM) — A study, in collaboration with Michigan State University faculty, found that a blood test could help doctors predict which pregnant women might develop preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication, and how far a woman is in her pregnancy.

MSU Epidemiology and Biostatistics Professor Claudia Holzman says preeclampsia is one of the most concerning complications of pregnancy.

"It’s among the major causes of maternal mortality and can negatively impact fetal growth. If a mother's blood pressure becomes very high and it’s not controlled, she could have seizures and it could be life-threatening," said Holzman. "Often, preeclampsia often results in having to have a preterm delivery, which has its own consequences. So, it's considered a major risk factor for pregnancy.”

Using blood samples from pregnancy studies by Holzman and other researchers, the California startup company Mirvie analyzed maternal blood to detect problems in pregnancies early on. Seventy-five percent of women with preeclampsia tested positive in the study.

“But the trickier thing is that preeclampsia is not common. And so, of all the women that test positive, many of them will not go on to have preeclampsia,” said Holzman.

However, Holzman points out that a high false-positive rate holds true for all screenings and that they are working on improving the sensitivity and specificity of the test.

Out of the women who tested positive in the study, 32 percent developed preeclampsia.

“Preeclampsia occurs in approximately five percent of pregnancies somewhere around there, it seems like it's becoming a lot more prevalent, I think that people are just becoming a lot more ill,” said Dr. LaKeeya Tucker, chief of staff at Sparrow Hospital and a doctor with Alliance Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of organ damage. It is currently detected after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“If we had an earlier blood test, you know, then we could predict who would actually be a person who would have preeclampsia," said Tucker. "Then maybe we would be able to increase their surveillance, increase their screening throughout the pregnancy to be able to better treat them."

“Really just going into every appointment, like kind of in the back of your head knowing that something could be wrong. I would say that would be my biggest scare so far,” said Nursing Student Kayla Dunn, who is 36 weeks pregnant.

Dunn says early detection of diseases like preeclampsia could take away some of that fear.

“I think it would be nice because I mean, it could potentially, you know, have you a little worried and something that you're thinking about in the back of your mind. But I feel like it also could give you the time to prepare yourself,” Dunn said.

The study also found that biomarkers in blood could indicate how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.

“In settings where ultrasound isn't readily available, this type of blood marker could aid in determining what week of pregnancy are you in,” said Holzman.

Holzman’s cohort used in this study included blood samples of women in several Michigan cities.

“In our original cohort, women participated knowing what we learn was going to benefit future women, not necessarily their pregnancy that they were helping," Holzman said. "So, there's a lot of altruism in being part of these studies. The fact that these pregnancy cohort studies remain useful all these years just seems like a lovely thing."

Holzman hopes this encourages people to participate in studies like these as they could help detect new medical developments, just like this blood test which could detect preeclampsia.

Holzman says the blood test is still a long way from clinical application. Nevertheless, Tucker highlighted the importance of having the early screenings that are already available. She further said women should try to be as healthy as possible going into a pregnancy.

This story was originally reported by Luisa Wiewgorra on