Study puts pregnancy problems to the test
Two University of Adelaide researchers will be embarking on an ambitious project to develop diagnostic tests to predict a couple's risk for the three main complications of late pregnancy.
The major complications are preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and pre-term birth.
Professor Gus Dekker, Clinical Director, and Dr Claire Roberts, Director of Research for the project, will form a major collaboration with the University of Auckland's Associate Professor Robyn North.
The project, called SCreening fOr Pregnancy Endpoints, or SA SCOPE, will be funded by a $2.37 million grant over three years from the Premier's Science and Research Fund, which was awarded to the University's Research Centre for Reproductive Health.
"Together, these pregnancy complications afflict 19% of all first pregnancies in Australia and cause significant maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in Australia and worldwide," Professor Dekker said.
In the developed world, an estimated US$41 billion is spent annually on healthcare costs to provide ante-natal care, neo-natal intensive care and hospitalisation for first-time mothers and babies with these diseases.
"The precise causes of these pregnancy complications are unknown but how well the placenta develops is a key factor in pregnancy success," Dr Roberts said.
Professor Dekker said that lifelong consequences for the babies range from mild learning and behavioural problems to severe disabilities such as cerebral palsy and intellectual handicap.
"Poor fetal growth has also been implicated as a major risk factor for the development of a variety of adult onset diseases including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These lifelong health problems cause considerable human suffering and massive costs to the community, the individual and the healthcare system," he said.
Professor Dekker said predicting and preventing pregnancy complications has personal and public health benefits, particularly for the pregnant woman, her baby and future adult health. "SA SCOPE aims to develop diagnostic tests that could predict risk and initiate preventative and therapeutic interventions before symptoms of pregnancy complications appear," he said.
"Currently, there are no such tests and our therapeutic interventions have low efficacy, being simply too little, too late," Dr Roberts said.
This funding will be used to recruit a large number of women (and their partners) pregnant for the first time in Adelaide and Auckland and determine their risk based on tests on maternal and paternal blood samples.
Dr Roberts said the project would allow for advancements in functional genomics and bioinformatics and building and maintenance of South Australian intellectual property for continued research and development in South Australia.
The University of Adelaide's commercial development company, Adelaide Research & Innovation Pty Ltd who assisted the Research Centre for Reproductive Health with the grant application, will work closely with the centre's researchers to bring the results of this innovative research - predictive diagnostics for pregnancy diseases - to the community.
Story by Howard Salkow