Predicting preeclampsia from a blood test holds promise for pregnancy complications

Preeclampsia is a potentially serious problem that usually surfaces late in pregnancy, posing an immediate risk of preterm birth, stillbirth, and death as well a later danger of stroke for the mother. New research published Wednesday in Nature shows how RNA molecules sequenced from a single blood sample could predict preeclampsia months before symptoms appear, holding promise for detecting and treating this and other pregnancy complications before they cause harm.

Circulating RNA drawn from mothers’ blood has been sequenced and tied to preeclampsia before, as this July 2020 Science Translational Medicine paper from the sequencing company Illumina showed in 113 people. Four genes have previously been implicated in preeclampsia, too. But the new Nature paper analyzed what is known as cell-free RNA in blood from mother, placenta, and fetus in more than 1,840 pregnancies in participants from North America, Europe, and Africa. The geographic and racial diversity of participants (55.1% white, 32.6% Black, 5.4% Hispanic, 3.8% Asian, and 3.1% mixed/unknown/not reported) lends strength to its conclusion that race, body mass index, and age were irrelevant to preeclampsia risk.

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Predicting preeclampsia from a blood test holds promise for pregnancy complications

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