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Mother's blood test may predict birth complications
Tests in pregnant mice and again in a small sample of women, found that low levels of the blood marker known as DLK1 was a good predictor of poor fetal growth and other complications of pregnancy. Such a test could potentially be used as a non-invasive prenatal procedure for diagnosing the health of a fetus.
"It's incredibly important to start developing tests that can give an obstetrician much more information on the pregnancy before delivery, so that they can intervene before complications come to a crisis point.
"Measuring DLK1 levels in the mother's blood could be a reliable and non-invasive way of predicting whether there are likely to be complications, especially those that cause reduced nutrient supply to the baby. In those instances, you really need to get the baby out quickly, so women could opt to have an early elective delivery."
However, little is known about its source, what it does, and whether it can indicate anything about the health of a fetus. Funded by the Medical Research Council and published in Nature Genetics, experiments involved knocking out mouse genes in either fetus or mother, then measuring the DLK1 level in either to determine its source.
The team then looked at how DLK1 affects a pregnant mouse's metabolism. Humans start a process known as ketosis after fasting for 24 hours. A process the Atkins diet counts on — burning of energy from stored fats keeps our body functioning.
When DLK1 was inactivated in pregnant mice, their fasting response was impaired as they do not enter ketosis. This indicates the importance of DLK1 to provide energy for their fetal pups to grow. And, DLK1 levels in the mouse moms were found to be a good predictor of the mass weight of their pups.
Finally, with help from the Pregnancy Outcome Prediction Study or POPs study at the University of Cambridge, researchers were able to study 129 first time mothers by taking measurements of DLK1 levels in their blood and recording outcomes of their pregnancies.
Researchers warn that further clinical studies in humans will be required to fully determine DLK1's potential as a prenatal diagnostic.
Research paper: 'Fetus-derived DLK1 is required for maternal metabolic adaptations to pregnancy and is associated with fetal growth restriction'. Mary A M Cleaton, Claire L Dent, Mark Howard, Jennifer A Corish, Isabelle Gutteridge, Ulla Sovio, Francesca Gaccioli, Nozomi Takahashi, Steven R Bauer, D Steven Charnock-Jones, Theresa L Powell, Gordon C S Smith, Anne C Ferguson-Smith & Marika Charalambous. Nature Genetics 2016 doi:10.1038/ng.3699. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng.3699
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Tests in pregnant mice and women found low levels of DLK1
predict poor fetal growth and complications in pregnancy.
Therefore, it could be used as a non-invasive prenatal diagnostic.
Image Credit: public domain