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Hormone testing could reveal pregnancy complications

Research by a Cambridge team suggests complications in pregnancy could be spotted earlier by testing hormone levels in the placenta.

Dr Claire Meek head and shoulders
Dr Claire Meek

Dr Claire Meek, a consultant with the Addenbrooke’s diabetes in pregnancy service, says the findings could prevent potentially life-threatening conditions.

She said:

Unfortunately, some women already have signs of a big baby at the time of diagnosis at 28 weeks. This new test might be able to identify gestational diabetes earlier in pregnancy, providing opportunities to prevent the disease, or to protect mums and babies from the most harmful complications.

Dr Claire Meek, consultant with the Addenbrooke’s diabetes in pregnancy service

Current methods to diagnose pregnancy disorders do not take place until the second or third trimester and are neither sensitive or reliable, leading to difficult labours with more medical intervention and lifelong issues for the baby.

Using blood samples from Addenbrooke’s mothers-to-be, the research team identified hormones that may be present during a woman’s first trimester and could alert doctors to complications that may only become apparent later.

Lead author of the study Dr Amanda N Sferruzzi-Perri, of the University of Cambridge added: “Our study found hormonal biomarkers from the placenta could indicate which women would have pregnancy complications.”

This is highly important given that pregnancy disorders affect around one in ten pregnant women and are often diagnosed too late.

Dr Amanda N Sferruzzi-Perri, lead author of the study

The placenta develops during pregnancy and connects the baby to the mother, serving as the lungs, kidneys, gut and liver and carrying oxygen and nutrients whilst secreting hormones and discarding waste. It drives many of the changes in a women’s body.

Nearly all organs need to alter function so a baby can grow, but if they cannot adapt it leads to issues including fetal growth restriction or over-growth, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia – a life-threatening high blood pressure in the mother.

The scientists’ paper was published in Nature Communications Biology.