Irina Buhimschi, M.D., Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology Director, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Credit: Courtesy of Irina Buhimschi

Researchers at Ohio State have made groundbreaking strides toward a reliable test for the pregnancy condition preeclampsia.

On March 1, Ohio State researchers Kara Rood and Irina Buhimschi, along with other researchers, published a paper in Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine detailing a urine test that can detect preeclampsia in pregnant women.

Buhimschi, a Nationwide Children’s Hospital researcher at the time of the study and inventor of the Congo Red Dot test, said preeclampsia is a major cause of maternal and neonatal deaths. Buhimschi said the new test will be “the first diagnostic test specifically designed for preeclampsia.”

Preeclampsia is a disease mainly characterized by high blood pressure and elevated proteins and is typically diagnosed based on symptoms, Buhimschi said. However, this becomes problematic because the disease is individualistic.  

Buhimschi explained that many symptoms of preeclampsia vary, and some may be a result of unrelated problems. This makes a definitive test for preeclampsia imperative for accurate and fast detection, Buhimschi said.

Rood, an assistant professor in maternal fetal medicine at Ohio State, said the research done at the university in partnership with Nationwide Children’s found that there are “misfolded proteins” in the urine of women with preeclampsia.

The misfolded proteins act as a marker for the disease and have the unique ability to bind with red dye, Rood said. She said the method of detection they developed is a paper test with dots of red dye. When the urine of a woman with preeclampsia is put on the paper, the dye moves, and when a woman’s urine that is negative for preeclampsia is placed on the paper, the dye does not move.

The more the dye spreads, the more proteins in the woman’s urine and the more severe the disease, Rood said.

Rood and Buhimschi said that another goal of this test is to make preeclampsia detection available in developing countries where other forms of detection may not be available.

This test does not require any equipment while many other forms of detection do, Rood said.

Buhimschi said they found that in many clinics in developing countries, there are not even blood pressure machines. She said that the laboratory equipment required for other forms of preeclampsia detection are often unavailable, and having a simple test like the Congo Red Dye test could change how preeclampsia is diagnosed at the global level.

“The largest issue with some of the low-income countries is the utilization of resources,” Rood said. “[The test] could help determine who needs to go to a higher level of care.”

Buhimschi said her goal was to make the test as simple as possible, so it could be as accessible as possible.

“I have a commitment from the CEO of the company,” Buhimschi said. “The final iteration [of this test] is going to be affordable for everyone.”