Australian researchers are close to evolving a test to predict common pregnancy risks.
Led by Associate Professor Claire Roberts, Senior Research Fellow in the University of Adelaide's new Robinson Institute, the researchers have identified subtle variations in specific genes within the mother, father or baby that indicate the mother is more likely to suffer from pregnancy complications.
This advance will permit tailored, and sometimes potentially life-saving, antenatal care and constitutes a quantum leap forward in the care of pregnant women and their babies.
The research has also identified potential therapies for use in early pregnancy to improve placental development and function and reduce the risk from pregnancy complications.
Associate Professor Roberts presented her team's findings and discuss many other pregnancy risk factors at the University's free public seminar series on Tuesday.
"Our findings show that it does actually take two for successful pregnancy," Associate Professor Roberts says. "Pregnancy success is determined by a complex interaction of maternal, paternal and environmental characteristics that together dictate how well the placenta develops and functions and how the mother adapts to pregnancy.
"Defects in how well the placenta develops and functions are implicated in common pregnancy complications ranging from miscarriage, through preeclampsia, pre-term birth and fetal growth restriction. The problem with complications is that we are unable to predict which women are at risk until symptoms develop, and then therapies can be too little, too late."
Pre-eclampsia affects as many as one in 10 pregnancies, presenting as high blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine.
The mother can suffer headaches, pain under the ribs and often severe swelling, with possible kidney damage, stroke and even death in the worst cases.
The South Australian study recruited 1169 women with a pregnancy that progressed past 20 weeks, and collected samples from them, their partners and their babies.
Detailed medical histories of both parents, extra ultrasounds, cervical swabs and urine samples were also taken.
Professor Roberts said a diagnostic test for couples was still "a couple of years" away, as the test still needed to be fine-tuned and downsized for practicality.
She is looking for a commercial partner to develop the test for use, with plans to publish an article on the study later in the year, Pia Akerman reported for Australian.
"When you get pregnant, you have no idea what your risk is," Prof. Roberts said. "We think that the availability of a test which could predict risk would give couples comfort. We anticipate that a very large number of women, in excess of 90 per cent, would take up a test such as this."
The test would not be very expensive health insurance companies, and Medicare could come forward to subsidise it because of the potential money to be saved by averting pregnancy problems, the professor hoped.