New Maternal Blood Test For Fetal Growth Restriction Predicts Dangerously Small Babies

A new maternal blood test discovered by researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) could predict fetal growth restriction (FGR), a complication during pregnancy that results in dangerously small babies, says a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, fetal growth restriction occurs when the weight of an unborn baby falls below the 10th percentile for gestational age. FGR is currently diagnosed either by comparing the fundal height (height of the uterus) with the gestational age of the baby or through the use of ultrasound.

Fetal growth restriction results in dangerously small babies and is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among newborns. FGR can also cause stillbirth and long-term health and developmental problems. An estimated 1 out of every 20 pregnancies is effected by fetal growth restriction.

However, researchers in the present study have discovered a protein in the blood of pregnant women that can be used to predict which babies will be affected by fetal growth restriction.

In the study led by Dr. Andrée Gruslin, M.D., Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, the researchers focused on a protein called Insulin Growth Factor Binding Protein 4 (IGFBP-4). IGFBP-4 has previously been associated with pregnancy.

To determine a link, if any, between IGFBP-4 levels during early pregnancy and fetal growth restriction, the researchers examined the blood from 36 pregnant women whose babies developed FGR and 36 pregnant women whose babies developed normally.

According to the research, expectant mothers with high levels of IGFBP-4 during the first trimester were 22 times more likely to give birth to dangerously small babies who were affected by fetal growth restriction.

The results of this study are important for helping pregnant women whose babies are at risk for fetal growth restriction. As Dr. Gruslin explains in a press release for the OHRI:

“Usually, we don’t find out until later in a pregnancy that a fetus isn’t growing properly, but this test can tell us in the first trimester if there’s likely to be a problem. By identifying these high-risk pregnancies early on, we will be able to monitor these women more closely and hopefully help them deliver a healthier baby”

An early maternal blood test for fetal growth restriction is still experimental. However, the results of this study have raised the possibility for clinical use of IGFBP-4 as an early biomarker for FGR. Being able to predict which babies will be affected by fetal growth restriction during the first trimester will help improve the prenatal care for women and babies at risk for the condition.

Would you consent to a blood test that could predict fetal growth restriction?