New Project Offers Clear Hope for the Early Detection of Pre-eclampsia

3 Dec 2013
Ken and Amanda McCarthy,(the first participant enrolled in the IMPROVED study) with Maeve O’Connell, Research Midwife Improved. Photo, Gerard McCarthy.

A new research initiative focusing on the life-threatening complications associated with pre-eclampsia is set to save the lives of affected mothers and babies.

IMPROvED an acronym for ‘IMproved PRegnancy Outcomes by Early Detection’ entails the use of novel metabolite and protein biomarkers to develop a non-invasive, sensitive, specific, and clinically robust blood-screening test for this common late-stage pregnancy complication. An international consortium of obstetric clinicians and scientists led by Louise Kenny, Professor of Obstetrics, University College Cork, Director of the Irish Centre for Foetal and Neonatal Translational Research (INFANT), Cork and Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, University Maternity Hospital launched a major EU funded programme where maternal and foetal health care stand to become revolutionised through a significantly more personalised approach. 

The study will be conducted with the help and participation of first-time pregnant women recruited in major obstetric centres across five European countries, as well as €6m in funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.

Pre-eclampsia is the current leading cause of maternal death in Europe and the cause of 70,000-80,000 maternal deaths worldwide annually (and more than 500,000 infant deaths). The objective of the IMPROvED project is to assess and refine two innovative screening tests for the early detection of this complex disorder. First-time pregnant women and women who have never before given birth are to be recruited in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands to take part in the study. Eligible women who meet the selection criteria - fewer than 16 weeks restriction (i.e., no high blood pressure, no diabetes, no kidney disease) - will be invited to undergo normal clinical evaluations, such as weight, height, blood pressure, and pulse readings, and also give urine, hair, and blood samples at the centres. Follow up post-natal visits will also be conducted.

Professor Louise Kenny said “our goal is to save the lives of affected mums and babies by reducing and eventually preventing the life-threatening complications associated with pre-eclampsia.  Mums-to-be can be confident that they are in excellent hands as all participating obstetric recruitment centres (University College Cork, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Klinikum der Universitaet zu Koeln, University of Liverpool, Karolinska Institute of Sweden, University of Keele) have well-established track records and outstanding reputations for the research and management of pre-eclampsia”.

The help of first-time mothers is vital to the success of IMPROvED.  Amanda McCarthy, the first patient recruited to the project added, “Pre-eclampsia can have a devastating outcome for both mums and babies.  By joining IMPROvED I feel that I am contributing to a better and more personalised approach to understanding the cause of this disease”.

The team who make up the international consortium of IMPROvED want to hear from first-time-mothers who are interested in participating on the programme.  Not only will this revolutionise the world of maternal health, there are other tangible benefits to be gained as well, such as:

  • reducing the overall disease burden on mums and babies
  • reducing the healthcare costs
  • facilitating high-calibre research
  • increasing European competitiveness in this research field



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