A new study by researchers from UCLA is harnessing the power of molecular changes during pregnancy in a way that could help to more accurately predict complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia before symptoms arise.
Gestational diabetes is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy, and like other types of diabetes, it affects how your cells use glucose. It is most commonly diagnosed during the second or third trimester, and it can cause problems for the mother and the baby during pregnancy and after birth.
On the other hand, preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure has been normal. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious — even fatal — complications for both the mother and baby.
For the study, researchers modified a blood test used to detect DNA-level changes that could point to fetal abnormalities. To isolate cell-free nucleic acids shed from the placenta into the blood, the team used state-of-the-art imaging, mathematical algorithms, and modeling. They periodically tested the blood of a group of expectant mothers through their pregnancies.
They analyzed the cell-free DNA from samples of maternal plasma taken during the first, second, and third trimesters of pregnancy, and also at delivery.
“We found that in patients who developed gestational diabetes later in pregnancy, the percentage of DNA coming from the placenta in the first trimester was higher compared to the patients with pregnancies that didn’t have complications,” said Dr. Del Vecchio, a post-doctoral researcher in the UCLA Department of Pediatrics.
Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed with a glucose-tolerance test at around 24 to 28 weeks, but they were able to detect it during the first trimester, between 10 and 12 weeks.
UCLA Health, Browse U Magazine. (2022). Modified Blood Test Could Help Predict Pregnancy Complications. UCLA Health, Browse U Magazine. Retrieved from: