Developing a pre-eclampsia blood test

April 17, 2011 10:35:23 AM PDT
Alma Soto was about 6 weeks away from her due date with her first child when she started feeling pain. Pain so strong, she went to the hospital.

"I remember the nurse actually joked, but she was serious," said mother Alma Soto, "saying, 'You know you are a walking time bomb.' She said, 'Your blood pressure is like 200 over 90 something. This is not safe. You're in a life-threatening situation.'"

A life-threatening situation called pre-eclampsia. It's characterized by a spike in blood pressure.

"Hypertension is also accompanied with other multi-organ defects including serious kidney problems," added Rodney Kellems, Ph.D. of the University of Texas at Houston. "There can also be serious problems with the liver."

Soto said she was swollen everywhere.

Researchers are now testing the donated blood samples of 1,000 pregnant women.

"We identified a protein in the blood of women with preeclampsia and that protein was not found very often in women with normal, uncomplicated pregnancies," Kellems said.

With that knowledge, they hope to create a blood test to detect the disease before symptoms start.

"So we potentially can remove these antibodies or interfere with activation of this antibody," said Dr. Yang Xia of the University of Texas.

Right now, the only option for saving the mom is bedrest or to deliver the baby - often prematurely. That was the case in 2 of Alm'a pregnancies. Fortunately, all of Alma's children are happy and healthy today.

"Even though time has passed, just thinking about it now is still hard," she says.

Researchers say they have just secured the money to develop the blood test, so they can't give a specific timeline yet as to when it will be ready.