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Nanotechnology device: Determine the possibility of serious complications during pregnancy

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai and the University of California collaborated on a study that allowed them to develop a new method of detecting a potentially fatal disease known as placenta accreta spectrum disorder, which can happen during pregnancy.

When the placenta expands too deeply in the uterine wall and fails to separate from the uterus after childbirth, the condition is known as placenta accreta spectrum disorder. It can cause severe blood loss during pregnancy and delivery, necessitating intensive care and blood transfusions, as well as serious illness and infection, and it could even be potentially lethal to the mother. The condition affects only about 0.5 per cent of all pregnancies.

Nanotechnology device

How can this disease be identified?

The spectre of the accreta placenta is diagnosed using echography in conjunction with a review of the pregnancy history of the mother. A history of placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta covering the birth canal protrudes, and a previous caesarean section, for example, may indicate an increased risk. However, these factors alone are usually insufficient to identify cases, except for the most serious.

The new blood sample could be used as soon as a pregnancy’s first trimester, allowing doctors to more quickly refer high-risk pregnancies to specialists. When tested on more than 100 women, the blood sample was 93 per cent accurate to rule out the presence of placenta accreta and 79 per cent to confirm, with a negative result.

Early and precise detection of this extremely high-risk obstetrical issue, according to Dr Yalda Afshar, co-first author of the study and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA, can greatly improve outcomes for both mother and baby. He believes there is an urgent need to develop an easy to apply screen that could be performed in all healthcare settings early in pregnancy, regardless of patient resources, because current methods of screening for placenta accreta are unreliable.

Nanotechnology device for complication during pregnancy

What revolution has occurred to improve the detection of this disease?

The new method employs NanoVelcro Chip technology, which was developed throughout the last 15 years by University of California professors of molecular and medical pharmacology, Dr Yazhen Zhu and Hsian-Rong Tseng. The chip is the size of a postage stamp, with nanowires 1000 times thinner than a human hair and a reservoir of antibodies capable of recognizing specific cells. Originally, it was intended to detect tumour cells in cancer patients.

This new method was described in an article published in “Nature Communications.”

The researchers modified the chip for the new study to detect placental cells in the mother’s blood that are related to the placenta accreta spectrum disorder.  Trophoblasts are the first cells to show up in early pregnancy. When a blood test is analysed with the chip, the trophoblasts adhere to it and can be seen under the microscope. A high number of trophoblasts in the blood, or trophoblast clusters, indicate a high likelihood of placenta accreta disorder.

Seeing a cluster of trophoblasts for the first time felt like watching sparkling pearls, according to Zhu, one of the study’s lead authors. They felt as if they had a clear sight of the developing placenta when they examined the cells under the microscope.

Regardless of the outcome, researchers are investigating ways to improve the test’s accuracy and reliability.

According to Dr Margareta Pisarska, co-lead author of the study and professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at Cedars-Sinai, the multidisciplinary approach of the research team was key to the success of the study. According to her, the effectiveness of this test and the strength of their work stem from the collaboration of experts from various fields, including nanotechnology, obstetrics, engineering, pathology, chemistry, biostatistics, and microfluidics. Because of the diversity of their team, they were able to develop innovative methods to improve newborn and maternal outcomes.

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