Doctors may be able to develop a blood test that can predict low-birthweight babies

Wednesday, June 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A blood test early in pregnancy may be able to identify women at risk of having a low-birthweight baby, a study suggests.

That, in turn, could enable mothers-to-be to take precautions, which can include various medicines, better diet, more exercise and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes.

Researchers analyzed first-trimester blood samples from 4,288 British women who delivered normal babies at full term. The researchers measured levels of a protein called pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A, or PAPP-A. Mothers with very low PAPP-A levels during the first trimester were found to be more likely to have small babies.

That finding may allow the development of a diagnostic test to predict birthweights, said Dr. Benjamin Tycko, a Columbia University pathologist.

Low-birthweight babies _ those born 5 1/2 pounds or less _ run a higher risk of physical or mental development problems as newborns, along with an increased chance of heart disease, diabetes and respiratory problems later in life.

The study was led by Gordon Smith and colleagues at Cambridge University and was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

In a related British study also published in Nature, researchers found evidence that a certain gene that is inherited from the father promotes the growth of bigger babies in the womb.

The gene controls production of insulin-like growth factor II, or IGF-2. People inherit two versions of most genes, one from each parent. But only the version of the IGF-2 gene from the father is active.