Women could soon find out during early pregnancy whether or not they are at a high risk of miscarriage or preeclampsia by taking a blood test.
Scientists at the Laboratory of Premature Medicine and Immunology in San Francisco, US, discovered a technique that detects pregnancy complications early on.
They found molecules on the placenta bed (the membrane that lines the uterus) can predict miscarriage and preeclampsia – before any symptoms have arisen – with 90% accuracy.
The blood test looks for molecules called “microRNA”, that are thought to indicate problems with blood supply and cause complications.
“Our combined analysis supports the idea that the Great Obstetrical Syndromes [miscarriage, preterm labour] have a common biological origin early in the first trimester that can be detected throughout the first trimester using peripheral blood cell microRNA,” the researchers said.
The research, presented at the American Association of Reproductive Medicine annual congress in Texas, used four combined studies involving 160 births.
They were able to predict miscarriage and late preeclampsia with 90% accuracy and premature birth before 34 weeks with 89% accuracy.
Premature birth between 34 and 38 weeks was predicted with 92% accuracy.
They concluded that the discovery of these molecules would enable newly pregnant women to undergo to a simple blood test able to determine their risk.
And while there is little that can be done to prevent the miscarriage, researchers said it can help women prepare.
Barbara Hepworth-Jones, vice chair of the Miscarriage Association, said the research was “very welcome news”.
“Much research is still needed before we fully understand the causes of pregnancy complications including miscarriage, and can then look for treatments,” she told The Telegraph. “But this holds real hope for the future.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have discovered a potential signifier that a pregnant woman has an increased risk of miscarriage.
In July 2017, scientists at the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine studied hormone levels in nearly 2,000 pregnant patients who had been through IVF and found low levels of the hormone βHCG (Beta-human Chorionic Gonadotrophin) were linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
“The βHCG level gives us a clear guide, helping us to counsel patients about the likelihood of a miscarriage, which in turn will help us to better prepare patients psychologically and emotionally,” said Marco Gaudoin, from GCRM, at the time.
In July 2011, a research team at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, found that a urine check test could could also predict this. The research team studied a sample of 112 women at risk of miscarriage, all between six and 10 weeks pregnant.
Doctors found they could predict the outcome of nine out of 10 pregnancies by measuring the amount of bleeding the pregnant mums were suffering and looking at the levels of pregnancy hormone in the blood and in their urine.