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NHS to roll out revolutionary pre-eclampsia blood test

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NHS England is rolling out a blood test for pre-eclampsia in pregnant women after a breakthrough study found it could save lives. 

A team of scientists from King’s College London discovered that measuring the concentration of placental growth factor (PlGF) in a woman’s blood speeds up diagnosis of pre-eclampsia and reduces serious complications including maternal death.

Previously, pre-eclampsia was diagnosed through measuring blood pressure and checking for protein in a woman’s urine and Lucy Chappell, lead author of the study, said these were “relatively imprecise and often quite subjective”.

Professor Chappell, National Institute for Health Research professor in obstetrics at King’s, added: “We knew that monitoring PlGF was an accurate way to help detect the condition but were unsure whether making this tool available to clinicians would lead to better care for women. Now we know that it does.”

Between June 2016 and October 2017, the team from King’s enrolled 1,035 women with suspected pre-eclampsia to the study from 11 maternity units across the UK.

The women were randomly assigned to two groups - one had their PlGF test results made available to their clinical team, the other did not.

PlGF testing was shown to reduce the average time to pre-eclampsia diagnosis from 4.1 days to 1.9 days and serious complications before birth including eclampsia, stroke, and maternal death from 5% to 4%.

There was no change in the likelihood of complications for the baby, the age at which babies were delivered prematurely or whether they were admitted to a neonatal unit.

The evidence showed widespread PlGF testing could saves lives, Professor Chappell added.

In response to the trial, NHS England is making the test more widely.

Professor Tony Young, national clinical lead for innovation at NHS England, said: “This innovative blood test, as set out in this new study, helps determine the risks of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, enabling women to be directed to appropriate care or reduce unnecessary worry more quickly.

“The NHS, with partners in government, will be making this test more widely available across the NHS as part of our plans to ensure as many patients as possible can benefit from world-class health innovations,” he added.

Pre-eclampsia is suspected in around 10% of UK pregnancies, affecting approximately 80,000 women annually.

If untreated, it can progress to cause complications in the woman, including damage to vital organs, fits and can be fatal for the woman and baby.

Sue Ziebland, professor of medical sociology at the University of Oxford and programme director at the NIHR, said NIHR funded the study to provide a conclusive answer as to whether PGIF testing helped clinicians to detect pre-eclampsia.

She added that it would be working to ensure the results of the research were taken up as soon as possible – “so that thousands of women can get care more quickly and prevent the dangerous effects of this condition”.

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