December 11, 2023

Preeclampsia is a potentially fatal condition that affects 4% to 8% of pregnant women worldwide, but it can be difficult to diagnose. Now, a team of Australian researchers has developed a fast and accurate new test using nanoparticle-based technology and novel biomarkers.

Usually starting after 20 weeks of gestation, preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and, later in pregnancy, damage to organs such as the kidneys and liver.

If left untreated, this condition can lead to serious and even fatal complications for both mother and baby. Early detection and treatment of preeclampsia can significantly reduce maternal and infant mortality. However, accurately detecting the condition can be tricky because women can present with different symptoms and clinical signs, so diagnosis is often delayed or missed.

Current methods of diagnosing preeclampsia include regular blood pressure measurements and checking for protein in the urine. A fetal ultrasound may be recommended to monitor the baby’s growth. In women between 20 and 35 weeks’ gestation, blood tests can detect low levels of placental growth factor (PlGF), but this is indicative only and further testing may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have now developed a fast and accurate new test for preeclampsia.

They developed a strip-based lateral flow assay that uses nanoparticle-based technology to detect the concentration of specific biomarkers in the plasma of women with preeclampsia. The lateral flow assay is a device that detects the presence of a substance of interest — in this case, it tests for two novel protein biomarkers called FKBPL and CD44, which Lana McClements, the study’s corresponding author, recently identified as promising Diagnostic biomarkers for early-onset preeclampsia.

One of the key components of the new test is lanthanide-doped upconverting nanoparticles (UCNPs), which, when combined with FKBPL and CD44, allowed accurate quantification of plasma concentrations of these biomarkers.

The researchers validated the test’s validity using clinical samples. They found that their test showed significantly improved sensitivity (90.5 percent versus 73.7 percent) and specificity (100 percent versus 92.3 percent) compared with state-of-the-art methods for diagnosing preeclampsia. And, the test results came back within 15 minutes.

“We believe this test has the potential to revolutionize how preeclampsia is diagnosed and managed,” McClements said.

The strip-based test works similarly to a home pregnancy test, is inexpensive and can be used in a prenatal clinic or doctor’s office without the need for bulky lab equipment. The speed with which it delivers results is a distinct advantage, the researchers say.

“This essentially allows clinicians to make informed decisions that are immediate and life-saving, rather than waiting 24 hours for results,” McClements said.

In addition to improving the detection of preeclampsia, the newly identified biomarkers could lead to the development of new treatments, the researchers said.

“In addition to the new test, the new biomarker shows potential as a drug and cell therapy target for emerging treatments for preeclampsia,” McClements said. “This offers hope not only for early diagnosis, but also for a future cure for this dreadful disease.”

The research team is now working on commercializing the test and hopes to make it available to healthcare providers around the world.

“This is a major advance over current diagnostic methods, which can be unreliable and time-consuming,” McClements said. “Our test has the potential to make a real difference for both mother and baby.”

The study was published in the journal Applied Chemistry.

source: University of Technology Sydney