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Irish researchers help develop test for dangerous pre-eclampsia

A team received €6 million in EU funding and will conduct a trial of their prototype for spotting the signs of the condition, which can occur during pregnancy.

PRE-ECLAMPSIA AFFECTS 2 per cent of all first-time mothers, but without a test for it, clinicians are not able to offer preventative measures.

Now a research team from University College Cork has been working on a test for the condition, which causes high-blood pressure in the second half of pregnancy and can lead to serious illness or even death.

Without an effective test for this little known or understood condition, clinicians are unable to offer preventive measures to lower the risk of it developing.

Now, thanks to €6 million in EU funding, the university will carry out phase two of a prototype test.

The total cost of the project is €7,77,4,977 and it will run until October 2016, having begun in November of last year.

Metabolomics

For the past 12 years, University College Cork (UCC) has been one of the pioneering institutes in the emerging science of metabolomics. This is the study of the chemical processes of the small molecules involved in metabolism.

The university has now developed a prototype test of a panel of biomarker metabolisers, which it believes can predict pre-eclampsia at an early stage of pregnancy, around 15 weeks.

Professor Louise Kenny is the project coordinator of IMPROvED (IMproved Pregnancy Outcomes by Early Detection), and said that data from a pilot study shows that the test offers “an unprecedented degree of specificity and sensitivity”.

Thanks to €6 million in EU funding, Prof Kenny is to lead a consortium of researchers and clinicians in conducting a phase II trial of this prototype test.

Charles Garvey from the project’s partner Metabolomic Diagnostics, a Cork-based SME, said:

Metabolomics offers a breakthrough in the discovery of effective screening tests by providing a window into what is actually happening in the metabolism at any moment in time.

As well as this test, the IMPROvED project will also trial a protein-based test. Prof Kenny explained:

At the end of the study, we’ll know which test works best. We’ll also be able to see whether combining the tests will give rise to a super test.

Prof Kenny said that while proven interventions for pre-eclampsia are also at an early stage, screening is still beneficial:

If you can pick out women at risk, you can push them into a different pattern of antenatal care, including increased maternal and foetal surveillance, which means that the disease can be picked up early, and mothers and babies can be saved.

She said that the development of a reliable screening test will also lead to significant healthcare savings, as women who are shown to not be at risk of developing pre-eclampsia can remain on less expensive low-risk care. In addition, savings will result from the reduced incidence of this disease.

According to the Pre-eclampsia Foundation, thousands of women and babies “die or get very sick each year” from pre-eclampsia.

It said the condition can be characterised by a rapid rise in blood pressure that in turn can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure or even death.

Read: Breakthrough’ in premature birth research by Irish scientists>

Read: Maternal death rate ‘up to four times higher than CSO figures’>

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