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

June 21, 2012

Researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) 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. Andrée 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, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 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 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."

The IGFBP-4 is still experimental, but Dr. Gruslin hopes to develop a refined version that could be made available to all 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. Babies born with this condition also have a higher risk of developing serious health complications in infancy and childhood, as well as chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes in adulthood.

Fetal Growth Restriction is thought to occur when the placenta, which provides nourishment and oxygen for the fetus, doesn't grow properly. Research by Dr. Gruslin and others suggests that IGFBP-4 blocks the activity of a key placental growth hormone called IGF-II, which results in poor growth of the placenta and fetus. Dr. Gruslin and her team are already testing a number of strategies for targeting IGFBP-4 to improve placental and .

Explore further: Study identifies possible protective blood factors against Type 2 diabetes

Related Stories

Study identifies possible protective blood factors against Type 2 diabetes

May 3, 2012
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in collaboration with Nurses' Health Study investigators have shown that levels of certain related proteins found in blood are associated with a greatly ...

Slow-growing babies more likely in normal-weight women; Less common in obese pregnancies

April 27, 2012
Obesity during pregnancy puts women at higher risk of a multitude of challenges. But, according to a new study presented earlier this month at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine annual convention, fetal growth ...

Deadly carbon monoxide prevents miscarriage

February 20, 2012
Heme oxygenase-1 is essential for the growth of blood vessels in the placenta and in establishing blood flow in the umbilical cord. Too little HO-1 can lead to a restriction in the growth of the fetus and even in fetal death ...

Recommended for you

Transplant of ovarian tissue frozen years ago holds hope of life

November 23, 2017
Ovarian tissue that was frozen a decade ago was implanted last week in a 25-year-old cancer survivor who hopes that reviving the tissue from suspended animation will allow her to start a family.

Sleeping position linked to the risk of stillbirth

November 20, 2017
Pregnant women who go to sleep on their back during the later stages of pregnancy face an increased likelihood of suffering a stillbirth, according to new research.

Study in mice finds dietary levels of genistein may adversely affect female fertility

November 14, 2017
Exposure to the phytoestrogen genistein prior to conception may adversely affect female fertility and pregnancy outcomes, depending on the dosage and duration of exposure, a new study in mice suggests.

IUDs may have a surprising benefit: Protection against cervical cancer

November 7, 2017
Considered a safe and highly effective contraception method, intrauterine devices (IUDs) may also be quietly offering protection against the third-most common cancer in women worldwide. A new study from the Keck School of ...

Increasing rates of chronic conditions putting more moms, babies at risk

November 7, 2017
Pregnant women today are more likely to have chronic conditions that could cause life-threatening complications than at any other time in the past decade - particularly poor women and those living in rural communities, a ...

First time mums with an epidural who lie down more likely to have a normal birth

October 18, 2017
Adopting a lying down position rather than being upright in the later stages of labour for first-time mothers who have had a low dose epidural leads to a higher chance of them delivering their baby without any medical intervention, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.