UC researcher develops predictive test for pre-eclampsia

11 December 2018

A University of Canterbury biochemist is creating a way to diagnose the life-threatening condition pre-eclampsia with the potential to save the lives of pregnant women and their babies worldwide.

  • Jennifer Crowther

    UC postdoctoral researcher Dr Jennifer Crowther.

A University of Canterbury biochemist is creating a way to diagnose the life-threatening condition pre-eclampsia with the potential to save the lives of pregnant women and their babies worldwide.

Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening condition for both mother and child that occurs in around 5% of pregnancies, and often requires early delivery of the baby.

Recent winner of the 2019 Innovation Jumpstart contest, UC postdoctoral researcher Dr Jennifer Crowther says, “Pre-eclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal and foetal disease and death worldwide.

Early prediction of the risk for pre-eclamptic complications could improve the health outcomes of both the mother and the child by allowing specialised care, close monitoring and targeted interventions.”

Women with the condition have higher levels of a specific protein in their blood, she says.

“This test will be able to quantify the level of that protein in blood, in order to identify individuals at risk of developing the condition.”

A predictive diagnostic test would be used in medical laboratories using samples collected as part of the regular check-up process for pregnant women.

“The clinical presentation of pre-eclampsia is diverse, often making correct and timely diagnosis difficult,” Dr Crowther says.

“While tests are available to assist in the diagnosis of established pre-eclampsia, these tests do not yet reliably predict the development of pre-eclampsia.”

Current guidelines rely on the measurement of blood pressure, and protein in the urine, however these measurements have low predictive accuracy, she says. 

“We need to increase the positive predictive power of tests for pre-eclampsia. This will allow those at risk to be closely monitored while ruling out those who will not develop the condition.

“Risk factors for pre-eclampsia include obesity, existing hypertension and diabetes and given the increasing rates of obesity and high blood pressure nationally, this is a major health concern in New Zealand.”

Dr Crowther was recently awarded $100,000 from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation to conduct her innovative research into the hypertensive disorder pre-eclampsia.

She gained a Bachelor of Science with Honours with First Class Honours in 2012 and last year was conferred with her PhD, which she researched within UC’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre (BIC), focused on understanding the differences between the cow and goat forms of a particular milk protein involved in causing milk allergies. She is now a postdoctoral reseracher within BIC and the School of Biological Sciences. 

For further information please contact:

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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