Blood test for pregnant women may predict risk of having dangerously small babies

Researchers have found a protein in pregnant women's blood that can predict if they are likely to have a fetus that doesn’t grow properly.

Written by Agencies | Washington | Published:June 23, 2012 5:45 pm

Researchers have found a protein in the blood of pregnant women that can predict if they are likely to have a fetus that doesn’t grow properly,and thus has a high risk of stillbirth and long-term health complications.

The research,led by Dr. Andree Gruslin,could lead to a widely available blood test and could help develop ways for improving the outcomes of women and their children who face this risk — estimated to be as many as one of every 20 pregnancies.

Dr. Gruslin’s study focuses on a protein called Insulin Growth Factor Binding Protein 4 (IGFBP-4).

While this protein has been linked to pregnancy before,this study is the first to demonstrate its important role in human pregnancy complications.

A key part of the study involved examining IGFBP-4 levels in first trimester blood samples from women who participated in a large study of pregnancies and newborns called the Ottawa and Kingston (OaK) birth cohort.

Dr. Gruslin found that women with high levels of IGFBP-4 were 22 times more likely to give birth to tiny babies (defined as the smallest five per cent by weight for their gestational age),than women with normal levels of IGFBP-4. This part of the study involved a total of 72 women — half with tiny babies and half with normal weight babies.

“Usually,we don’t find out until later in a pregnancy that a fetus isn’t growing properly,but this test can tell us in the first trimester if there’s likely to be a problem,” said Dr. Gruslin,a Scientist at OHRI,High Risk Obstetrician at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at uOttawa.

“By identifying these high-risk pregnancies early on,we will be able to monitor these women more closely and hopefully help them deliver a healthier baby,” she said.

The IGFBP-4 blood test is still experimental,but Dr. Gruslin hopes to develop a refined version that could be made available to all pregnant women within the next couple of years.

She also hopes that her studies on IGFBP-4 could lead to new approaches that would improve fetal growth in high-risk pregnancies.

This condition,called Fetal Growth Restriction or Intrauterine Growth Restriction,is thought to affect three to five per cent of all pregnancies,and cause close to half of all stillbirths.

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