Screening test by University of Tartu scientists for early identification of the risk for preeclampsia

Estonian scientists and physicians have developed a preeclampsia screening test that enables to prognose the disease risk at the beginning of the 3rd trimester with a probability of 96.5%. Early accurate identification of high-risk pregnancies enables timely clinical monitoring of concerned women to minimize preeclampsia-related health consequences on the mother and the fetus.

Pregnancy represents an extra burden for the organism of a woman and sometimes, the body cannot fully adapt to it. One of the most complex and least predictable pregnancy complications is preeclampsia that may rapidly develop any time in the second half of the gestation.

“Preeclampsia is characterised by a sudden sharp rise in blood pressure and functional failure of kidneys and several other organs. In severe clinical cases without timely management, the disease may be life-threatening,” said a senior research fellow of human molecular genetics and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Tartu, Kristiina Rull, adding that preeclampsia also endangers the fetus representing a high risk for intrauterine growth restriction and premature birth.

Preeclampsia affects about one in 20 pregnancies worldwide. In Estonia, the prevalence of preeclampsia is lower due to nation-wide high quality management of all pregnant women. In the last five years, preeclampsia has occurred approximately in one of 50 pregnancies.

“Estonia has a very good medical health care and pregnancy monitoring system. Thus, in the majority of cases, the most serious complications of the disease can be significantly reduced or even prevented. Although severe symptoms of preeclampsia resolve shortly after delivery, women who have experienced this disease have an increased risk of developing hypertension and type II diabetes later in life,” said a University of Tartu professor of human genetics, Maris Laan.

Early detection of the risk to develop preeclampsia during the ongoing pregnancy enables timely consideration of preventive measures and upon disease onset, manage its complications under appropriate medical supervision. Therefore, the development of screening tests for preeclampsia has been the focus of maternal-foetal medicine for many years.

The human genetics research group at the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, University of Tartu together with the Tartu University Hospital Women’s Clinic and SYNLAB Eesti have recently developed an innovative multimarker based lab test that enables to measure in a single test tube simultaneously several preeclampsia-related biomarkers circulating in maternal blood.

A doctoral student at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu and a senior laboratory specialist at SYNLAB Eesti, Kaspar Ratnik, said that the algorithm developed by the team combines the measured biomarker values with the mother’s clinical data and evaluates the risk for preeclampsia during the next two months. “Our research results showed that the developed screening test is able to prognose at the beginning of the 3rd trimester the disease risk with a probability of 96.5%,” noted Ratnik.

When the same research samples were analyzed in parallel using the currently most widely applied preeclampsia screening test (ratio of sFlt-1 and PlGF biomarkers), a correct prognosis was reached only in 74% of pregnancy cases. Therefore, the test created by Estonian researchers affords superior performance compared to currently available solutions.

The research results were recently published in the journal The Journal of Applied Laboratory Medicine and a patent application for the developed method has been filed on behalf of the University of Tartu.

The translation of this article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

Further information:
Kaspar Ratnik
A doctoral student at the University of Tartu, a senior laboratory specialist at SYNLAB Eesti
+372 5624 9114