New protein believed to predict life-threatening condition in fetuses

Israeli-developed biomarker believed to predict life-threatening condition early in pregnancy.

Berthold Huppertz 248 88 (photo credit: Judy Siegel)
Berthold Huppertz 248 88
(photo credit: Judy Siegel)
A sensitive biomarker developed at an Israeli medical diagnostic and biotechnology company in Yokneam is the first in the world believed to predict during early pregnancy the chance a woman will develop preeclampsia, a condition which involves high blood pressure and can lead to complications in the kidneys, liver, blood system and brain, as well as to premature delivery. Called placental protein 13 (PP13), the biomarker was developed at Diagnostic Technologies Ltd. (DTL), made available for a fee to some Israeli women and will now be tested further in Austria. Prof. Berthold Huppertz, a German-born cell biology expert at the Institute of Cell Biology, History and Embryology at the University of Graz in Austria, said he would collaborate with obstetricians at the university women's hospital in the city to test the Israeli biomarker. DTL began as an "incubator" project at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in 1994. It became a fully-fledged company eight years ago, but is currently seeking more investors. Huppertz was one of the speakers at the placenta research conference held Thursday at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel and chaired by Hadassah University Medical Center fetal imaging expert Prof. Simcha Yagel. The cell biologist says preeclampsia - which complicates five to seven percent of all pregnancies and is responsible for 18% of all maternal deaths during pregnancy, as well as for a third of all premature births - remains a mysterious disease, even though it was mentioned in ancient Egyptian and Chinese texts going back 3,000 years. PP13 is a placental protein that is said to be capable of identifying at-risk women as early as the eighth week of pregnancy; preeclampsia usually appears suddenly at around 30 weeks. While there is no cure as yet, treating women with bed rest, low-dose aspirin or other substances and monitoring their condition can reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Huppertz told The Jerusalem Post in an interview at the conference that preeclampsia was more common in pregnant women at all ages than eclampsia, a more serious condition which requires the immediate delivery of the fetus, and that women who have undergone in-vitro fertilization or have several fetuses were at higher risk. It was less common in Asians than in Caucasians, and more common in blacks, but could occur in anyone, said Huppertz. "If my mother had had preeclampsia when I was born, it would be more likely when my wife gave birth to our four children," he said. The current hypothesis is that cells invading the uterus fail to transform its arteries into open tubes, preventing the arrival of enough oxygen to the placenta, which is damaged. A woman whose immune system is "used" to her husband's sperm is less likely to get preeclampsia; if a woman changes partners and gets pregnant, the risk rises, Huppertz said. A person whose mother had preeclampsia was more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as an adult, he added. The populations of Austria and Israel were nearly the same size, Huppertz noted, but the birth rate in Israel was much higher.The birth rate in Austria and Germany was not high enough to replace the current population, he said. A full feature on the placenta conference will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, May 31.