So far, the causes of preeclampsia, a disorder in pregnant women characterized by the onset of high blood pressure, are unknown. For this reason, the Academic Body of Molecular Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Zacatecas (UAZ) is working since 2010 to identify biomarkers that can predict the risk of developing the condition and thus prevent and reduce mortality associated with this disorder.
Dr. Margarita de la Luz Martinez Fierro, leader of the project said they have analyzed samples of 600 women throughout their pregnancy, from which they obtain and study a thousand potential biomarkers of pre-eclampsia. The researchers found 26 proteins that allow knowing who are at increased risk of developing the disease from the third month of pregnancy for women.
Martinez Fierro said there is currently no treatment to cure preeclampsia, only treatment to lowering blood pressure and its complications. She said there are several theories explaining how preeclampsia manifests; each of those theories encompasses several biomarkers, selected by the group of scientists to develop this study.
“Throughout history, preeclampsia has also been known as ‘the disease of theories’ because it is not known what triggers it. It is considered the most important cause of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality,” Martinez Fierro said. Many of those who develop the disease “shows no pathological condition before pregnancy, i.e. they are healthy women, who become pregnant develop the disease and even have the risk of dying; not only them, but also their babies.”
Biomarkers for preeclampsia prediction
Dr. Martinez Fierro said that team of scientists decided to identify biomarkers in a sample of blood, urine or placental tissue, which could predict early in the pregnancy which women are at higher risk of developing the disease, to implement a specific preventive strategy for each case.
“To do this, we started with a longitudinal study, where those women who came for their prenatal care were invited to participate in the study and once they accepted three blood samples were taken at week 12, 16 and 20 of the pregnancy, with the intention of finding molecules that allowed us to predict the development of preeclampsia.”
“At the end of pregnancy, we identified women who had or not developed preeclampsia and make a comparison between the two groups of patients, in regards of the molecules we measure early in their biological fluids.”
Dr. Martinez Fierro said that over seven years the group of scientists has analyzed about a thousand potential biomarkers. Of which, they found 26 proteins (19 from urine and 7 from plasma) that allow knowing who are at increased risk of developing the disease from week 12 of pregnancy.
For example, the researchers found that endoglin protein indicates that a woman is 19 times more likely to preeclampsia. The sensitivity and specificity of this protein are good compared to other molecules reported in other studies. Other molecules identified by this research group are fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2), soluble form of epidermal growth factor receptor (sEGFR), prolactin and soluble form of epidermal growth receptor 2 (sHER2) – soluble receptor normally associated with breast cancer, among others.
Although many of these results have already been published in international medical journals, the team of researchers is still in the process of reporting all their findings. Currently they are working on a manuscript that summarizes and compares all biomarkers predictors of preeclampsia.
Margarita Martínez clarified that the intention of the research team is to propose a group of biomarkers for each week of gestation, so they can be used in clinical practice depending on the patients’ gestational stage.
Interestingly, the researchers identified biomarkers molecules involved in the four major theories explaining the clinical manifestations of preeclampsia, depending on the stage of pregnancy.
Plans for the short and long terms
Dr. Margarita Martínez said that the research team is currently working on pre-clinical study to propose therapeutic molecules that constitute treatments for the disease.
Using the information that obtained so far, the efforts of the group are directed to proposing molecules for potential therapy directed, generating a medical device to quantify quickly the proteins that were identified as biomarkers, and validating the results with a larger sample.
Source: Agencia Informativa CONACYT