Study: This Simple Blood Test Can Predict High-Risk Pregnancies

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Researchers have found a protein by which doctors can monitor the likelihood of high risk pregnancies.

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PROBLEM: It's long been clear that a causal relationship exists between the malnourishment of a fetus and the birth of a stillborn or an alarmingly small infant. But the ability to predict the likeliness of these complications has been minimal.

METHODOLOGY: Led by Doctor Andrée Gruslin, researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa examined first trimester blood samples from women who had participated in a large study of pregnancies entitled the Ottawa and Kingston birth cohort. 72 women -- half with very small babies and half with average weight babies -- were included in the study.

RESULTS: The researchers found that women with elevated levels of the protein Insulin Growth Factor Binding Protein 4 (IGFBP-4) were 22 times more likely to produce tiny babies than women who maintained normal IGFBP-4 levels.

CONCLUSION: Gruslin suggests that Insulin Growth Factor Binding Protein 4 inhibits an essential placental growth hormone, IGF-II, resulting in a malnourished and underdeveloped placenta and fetus. High levels of IGFBP-4 can therefore lead to serious health complications in pregnancy, such as stillbirths and precariously underweight babies.

IMPLICATION: The researchers intend to refine the IGFBP-4 blood test in order to make it available to the public. Gruslin also hopes to develop a method by which to target the IGFBP-4 protein, which could effectively reduce the occurrences of stillbirths, fetal growth restriction, and adulthood chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypo-tension that accompany this latter condition.

SOURCE: The full study, "Significance of IGFBP-4 in the development of fetal growth restriction," is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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Madeleine Kruhly writes and produces for The Atlantic.

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