April, 2011 - A recent discovery by Wistar scientists could potentially eliminate the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the United States. Ectopic pregnancy happens once in about every 100 pregnancies, and it is largely unpredictable. The first sign most doctors have of the condition, which occurs when the growing embryo is lodged in the Fallopian tubes, is when a patient seeks treatment in the emergency room. Now, however, Wistar researchers have discovered a set of protein “biomarkers”—blood-borne indicators of disease—that may provide doctors with the first blood test for ectopic pregnancy. Such a test would turn an unpredictable and life-threatening event into a small facet of routine patient care.
“The great power of biomarkers is to detect clinical disorders such as ectopic pregnancy, or diseases such as cancer, early when it is often easiest to treat the patient,” said David W. Speicher, Ph.D., who conducted the research with colleagues at Wistar and the University of Pennsylvania. “Here we can envision a useful blood test that could, as part of routine early prenatal care, save the lives of many women.”
According to Speicher, their work points to the power of proteomics—the study of the sum total of proteins that the body is making at a given time—in understanding the state of health or disease in people. Wistar has expertise in advanced proteomics, and the Institute’s researchers have found new biomarkers to predict diseases such as ovarian, breast and lung cancer, and are search for more to expand the ability of doctors to detect and treat a variety of diseases.