Predicting Birth of Small Babies With Blood Test

Connie K. Ho for
For a pregnant woman, healthy fetal growth is key to a healthy baby. To assist in this endeavor, a group of scientists recently announced that they have found a blood test which could help predict the risk of women having alarmingly small babies. Researchers from Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) recently discovered a protein in the blood of pregnant women that can foretell if a pregnant women will have a fetus that doesn´t develop properly, has a likelihood of stillbirth, or demonstrates long-term health issues. The research could assist in developing options that focus on decreasing the rates of women and children who face these risks.
The research, led by Dr. Andrée Gruslin, is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study focuses on Insulin Growth Factor Binding Protein 4 (IGFBLP-4), which has been associated with pregnancy and shows its importance in human pregnancy difficulties. In particular, the researchers looked at IGFBP-4 levels in first trimester blood samples of participants in the Ottawa and Kingston (Oak) birth cohort of pregnant women and newborns. Women who demonstrated high levels of IGFBP-4 were found to be 22 times more likely to give birth to babies who were five percent by weight for their gestational age than women who showed normal levels of IGFBP-4. Of the 72 women in the project, half had tiny babies and half had normal weight babies.
“Usually, we don´t find out until later in a pregnancy that a fetus isn´t growing properly, but this test can tell us in the first trimester if there´s likely to be a problem,” remarked Gruslin, a Scientist at OHRI and professor in the Faculty of Medicine at uOttawa, in a prepared statement. “By identifying these high-risk pregnancies early on, we will be able to monitor these women more closely and hopefully help them deliver a healthier baby.”
While the IGFBP-4 blood test is still in testing mode, Gruslin hopes that she and her team can create a refined version that could be accessible to pregnant women within the next few years. The experiments of IGFB-4 could develop new approaches that could affect fetal growth in high-risk pregnancies. Fetal Growth Restriction or Intrauterine Growth Restriction, a condition known to affect three to five percent of all pregnancies, is thought to be the cause of almost half of all stillbirths. Babies who were born with this condition also have a greater chance of having serious health problems in infancy and childhood as well as higher likelihood of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, in adulthood.
Fetal Growth Restriction happens when the placenta doesn´t grow properly, inhibiting nourishment and oxygen for the fetus. Past research has shown IGFBP-4 can stop the activity of IGF-II, an important placental growth hormone; this results in difficulty for the placenta and fetus to grow properly. The team of researchers from OHRI and uOttawa has already worked on testing a variety of strategies that allow IGFP-4 to enhance fetal and placental growth.

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