Simple blood test could save lives of women and their babies
Press Release | June 26, 2019

Preeclampsia affects about one in twenty pregnant women. Related to hypertension, the condition comes on quickly leading to labour induction in 20% of cases and Caesarean sections in 15% of cases, accounting for up to 10% of preterm deliveries.

Worldwide about 76,000 pregnant women die each year from preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders. And, the number of babies who die from these disorders is thought to be on the order of 500,000 per annum.

In developing countries, a woman is far more likely to die from preeclampsia because of delayed diagnosis and a lack of access to hospitals. Currently women at risk need to have their urine protein levels measured for a 24-hour period as a marker of the condition.

Building on a nanotechnology sensing platform initially developed with the support of the ARC Centre for Bio-Nano Science (CBNS), a team of researchers from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute have developed a cheap and disposable hand-held device that can warn doctors whether a woman has preeclampsia in less than 30 minutes and from a single drop of blood. The test is currently being tested in Adelaide and will be trialled in Vietnam at the end of the year. The technology and test results will be discussed at the 10th International Nanomedicine Conference in Sydney today.

The team led by CBNS CI Professor Benjamin Thierry and Dr Duy Tran have integrated the nanotechnology sensing technology with lab-on-chip concepts to measure the concentration of markers associated to preeclampsia such as the Placental growth factor (PlGF). Blood preeclampsia markers have been recently was validated by Melbourne researchers in a landmark study and not only more accurately diagnoses preeclampsia than protein in the urine but can also diagnose the severity of the condition.

According to Professor Thierry PIGF is a game changer for the diagnosis of preeclampsia “but it currently requires an expensive hospital-based test which can take up to 24 hours, which makes it an unlikely option in developing countries,” he said. He added that the marker is particularly good at determining who is at risk of the condition, “which is crucial in developing countries where it may take some time to get to medical care,” he said.

Dr Tran will present his data on the new device, outlining the world’s first technology able to detect preeclampsia markers levels from a drop of blood with a disposable and cheap sensor assay that effectively works on ultrasensitive nanotechnology devices. With the support of the NHMRC, the prototype developed by Dr Tran and PhD student Ms Thuy Pham has been successfully tested on two women with confirmed preeclampsia and will be trialled in Vietnam at the end of the year, with an initial trial of 200 devices.

** Maternal mortality in 2005: estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNIFPA and the World Bank, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007