A test carried out during pregnancy could predict which women will develop a potentially fatal condition called pre-eclampsia, scientists say.Presenting their study to the American Society of Nephrology, researchers said the test detected specific kidney cells in patients' urine. Out of 15 women who developed pre-eclampsia, all tested positive for the cells. Experts say a simple, predictive test during pregnancy would be valuable.
Pre-eclampsia is a disorder which appears in the late stages of pregnancy and is characterised by high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine.Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, who presented their work to the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, tested 300 women
Dr Vesna Garovic assessed a test which detects the shedding of kidney cells called podocytes in the urine. The team had previously found podocytes present in patients with pre-eclampsia when they gaveIn this study, all the women who went on to develop pre-eclampsia had podocytes in their urine, while none of the 15 who went on to develop high blood pressure or the 44 healthy pregnant women did.Although carried out on small numbers of women, the researchers say the test is highly accurate for predicting pre-eclampsia and could alert doctors early to the problem.Ann Marie Barnard, chief executive of Action on Pre-Eclampsia, said an accurate test would help many women.
"A large number of the 1,500 women who call our helpline each year are terrified of becoming pregnant again because they have suffered pre-eclampsia, often with tragic results. Many do decide to go ahead with a new pregnancy anyway."Any test which can predict whether they are going to get it again has to be welcomed-while it cannot stop the disease occurring, it would enable services to be more closely focused on them and more alert to signs of the disease developing."
And Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at St Thomas Hospital in London, said: "Being able to use a simple accurate test in pregnancy, such as from a urine sample, would be valuable in identifying those women to watch closely."Current tests are not reliable enough, and further work is needed to confirm these promising findings in larger groups."Scientists have opened up the possibility of one day using cancer patients' own skin to fight their tumours.
Oxford University researchers transformed skin cells into immune cells, which could be used to trigger a hunt for cancer. It was achieved only in the laboratory, not in people, meaning any therapy is a long way off. However, the researchers believe it will be possible. Harnessing the power of the immune system is a field being pursued by cancer researchers, such as in the search for cancer vaccines.
This study, published in the journal Gene Therapy, was focused on dendritic cells, which organise part of the immune response.By showing identifying markers-or antigens-they tell the immune system what to attack. If they display cancer markers, cancerous cells will become the target.Dr Paul Fairchild, from the Oxford Stem Cell Institute, said trials into dendritic cells, harvested from a patient's blood, had taken place before, but they fired up only part of the immune system. His team used advances in stem cell technology to create new dendritic cells from a patient's skin. These were primed to trigger an attack on melanomas using a marker, Melan A, which is unique to the cancer.
Experiments in the laboratory showed these dendritic cells were able to activate both immune cells which produce antibodies and those which kill other cells.Dr Fairchild said: "The patient would in effect be treated with their own immune cells to prime an attack on their tumour."He acknowledges that any therapy is a distant prospect. The cost and a safe method of producing stem cells are two of the barriers. Even then he pictures a treatment working alongside, rather than replacing, other therapies: "It is a long and arduous process compared with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It's extremely labour intensive." (BBC)