RNA profiles help identify women at risk of pre-eclampsia

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A study of pregnant women’s blood RNA has found specific molecular profiles that identify women at risk of pre-eclampsia. These findings can identify complications before symptoms emerge.

Published in Nature, the study, involving researchers from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Mirvie, examines genetic material found in blood samples that can predict pregnancy complications.

Researchers took 2,539 blood samples from 1,840 pregnant women in eight cohorts that included a range of ethnicities, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, geographic locations, as well as gestational ages. They then examined anonymous cfRNA profiles that reflect fetal development and healthy pregnancy progression.

In the study, researchers show the cfRNA signals which deviate from those of a healthy pregnancy. They found that one single blood sample could reliably identify women at risk of developing preeclampsia months prior to the onset of the disease. Using machine learning to analyze tens of thousands of RNA messages from the mother, baby, and placenta, the RNA platform can identify 75 percent of women who go on to develop pre-eclampsia.

According to researchers, this study could not only widen the window of detection and lead to quicker intervention, but also be used to investigate other pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth.  

“We are now focused on ongoing clinical research to further validate these results and improve the understanding of other pregnancy complications, said Rachel Tribe, PhD, professor of Maternal and Perinatal Sciences. “As a scientist, it was extremely interesting to see that the molecular signature tells us something about mechanisms associated with health in pregnancy and complications including pre-eclampsia; such knowledge will aid development of treatment strategies in the future.”