What does placental growth factor (PlGF) in the blood tell us about the placenta?

Dr Lucy Higgins, Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, Dr Michelle Desforges, Dr Jenny Myers, Prof Alexander Heazell, Kirsty Vincent

To help diagnose pre-eclampsia after it has developed, doctors can now use a blood test which measures the amount of a hormone called placental growth factor (PlGF). Our scientists are looking into PlGF and what it can tell us about the health of the placenta.

Start: September 2018

End: September 2022

Why do we need this research?

Right now, we do not have a test which can reliably tell us whether a woman will experience pregnancy complications such as slow fetal growth or pre-eclampsia, which can lead to stillbirth. By the time these problems appear there are still no treatments which can reverse them.

Having a reliable test would mean that doctors could intervene at an earlier stage, before these problems occur, which could prevent stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

To help diagnose pre-eclampsia after it has developed, doctors can now use a blood test which measures the amount of a hormone called placental growth factor (PlGF). Our scientists are looking into PlGF and what it can tell us about the health of the placenta.

So far, the team have been studying blood and placenta samples donated by 67 women. They have found that low levels of PlGF in the blood is associated with signs of stress in the cells of the placenta.

The team now plan to investigate what causes low levels of PlGF in the blood, and why that is connected to stress in the placenta. They then hope to identify new targets for drugs which could help keep placentas healthy.

What difference will this project make?

Our researchers hope that their work will lead to better methods to predict complications in pregnancy, and new treatments to prevent these from happening. Ultimately, their research could help to reduce the risk of stillbirth.

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