Novel Approaches For Anticipating Outcomes In Pregnancies With Foetal Complications

Improved prediction of which pregnancies are likely to result in stillbirth, neonatal death, or extremely preterm delivery will aid in identifying the most appropriate candidates for inclusion in these clinical trials

Photo Credit : Image by yanalya on Freepik,

A group of scientists, led by researchers from UCL, have developed new methods for predicting outcomes in pregnancies where the baby is not growing properly inside the womb. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, included 142 women from the EVEREST Prospective Study who had severe early-onset foetal growth restriction (FGR), which meant their babies were very small on ultrasound scans between 20 and 27 weeks of their pregnancy.

Foetal growth restriction affects approximately 60,000 babies annually in Europe and the USA. Some babies with FGR continue to grow and are born around their due date. However, many will either need extreme preterm delivery (before 28 weeks of pregnancy) or will not survive the pregnancy, resulting in stillbirth. In England alone, the annual total costs of neonatal care are estimated to be Pound 262 million.

Lead author, Dr. Rebecca Spencer (UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health and University of Leeds) said, “There is currently a lot of uncertainty for the families of unborn babies with early-onset foetal growth restriction and their healthcare providers. We want to give them a better idea of what to expect if they are affected – as many people find uncertainty harder to cope with than definite bad news. Predicting pregnancy outcomes may also help doctors decide how often to do ultrasound scans and when to give antenatal steroids to prepare the baby for preterm delivery.”

Results were analyzed for 123 women who had provided blood samples and had regular ultrasound examinations of their baby’s size and well-being. First, researchers measured the levels of 102 proteins in blood samples from 63 women and combined this with ultrasound measurements to build statistical models that could predict pregnancy outcomes. The team asked both women and their doctors which pregnancy outcomes they thought were important to them. Researchers then used measurements from the other 60 women in the study cohort to validate the models predicting these outcomes.

Dr. Spencer said, “We found that by assessing ultrasound and protein measurements – both alone and combined – we were able to predict which pregnancies would end in stillbirth or neonatal death, and which may require extreme preterm delivery before 28 weeks of pregnancy.” Researchers hope that using these techniques will help identify which women should be included in trials for potential treatments.

Senior author, Professor Anna David (UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health), leads the multinational EVEREST consortium. The EVEREST consortium is developing a novel treatment to improve the growth and outcomes of very small babies in the womb. Professor David said, "Currently, we have no therapy to improve foetal growth inside the womb, but a novel drug is being developed by our team. This will need to be tested in clinical trials. These results will help researchers to identify those women who might be most suitable to participate in the clinical trial, where the possible benefits outweigh the risks. Better prediction of which pregnancies will end in stillbirth, neonatal death, or extreme preterm delivery will help to identify who should be included in these trials." 



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