Researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital believe that the rapid blood test could save the lives of hundreds of babies a year.
The study, published in American Heart Association journal Circulation, suggests that testing the level of the protein placental growth factor (PIGF) in pregnant women before 35 weeks can accurately identify 96 per cent of those who will need to have their baby delivered within 14 days.
According to the report, a low level of PIGF found in the blood would indicate severe pre-eclampsia, in which case the average time in which the baby should be delivered would be under two weeks, irrespective of how developed it is.
If a pregnant woman has a high level of PIGF, the study suggests that it is unlikely she has severe pre-eclampsia, and in the majority of cases will carry her baby to full term.
Pre-eclampsia affects one in ten pregnancies, with between one and two per cent of mothers suffering from a severe form of the condition.
Currently, high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine are used to diagnose pre-eclampsia. Both of these signs can be unreliable and take days to confirm.
Authors of the report hope that the greater certainty the test will provide as to whether or not a baby should be delivered early will save the lives of some of the 1,000 babies who die every year in the UK as a result of pre-eclampsia.
Lucy Chappell, co-author of the study, said, ‘This research is going to change how we work and make a difference to thousands of women and babies who may be affected by pre-eclampsia. It is an extremely exciting development.’
Jane Brewin, chief executive of the charity Tommy’s, which helped to fund the study, said, ‘Pre-eclampsia is one of the great unsolved problems of medical science and if it isn’t caught early enough can in the worst cases lead to the death of both mother and baby. The only solution is to deliver the baby, sometimes at a point in pregnancy when babies will struggle to survive. This new test could revolutionise pre-eclampsia treatment so that it is spotted quickly, with greater accuracy, and women’s health managed so that their baby is only delivered when absolutely necessary – ultimately saving lives.’