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

Placental growth factor (PlGF) is a hormone that can be tested for in blood to help doctors diagnose pre-eclampsia. Our scientists are now finding out what PlGF can tell us about the health of the placenta, in the hope of finding a way to predict which women are likely to experience complications.
  • Author's list

    Dr Lucy Higgins, Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, Dr Michelle Desforges, Professor Jenny Myers, Kirsty Vincent

    Start: September 2018
    End: September 2021

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

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

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

What’s happening in this project?

Our scientists want to know what a hormone called placental growth factor (PlGF) can tell us about the health of the placenta. Already, women who are suspected of having pre-eclampsia can have a test to measure the amount of PlGF in their blood, with low levels suggesting that they have the condition. Low levels of PlGF may also occur when the baby is growing slowly in the womb, or in pregnancies that end in stillbirth. However, it is likely that there are many different reasons for a low PlGF result, meaning that one single treatment would not prevent further complications for all women with low PlGF.

Our team have already found that low levels of PlGF in blood is linked to signs of stress in the cells of the placenta. Now, the team hope to get a better understanding of exactly how the placenta works by looking at the roles of different genes in the placenta. Combining these results, our researchers should be able to understand the different reasons why women have low PlGF levels, which could then lead to the development of appropriate, more personalised, treatments.

What difference will this project make?

Our researchers hope that their work will result in better methods to predict complications that are linked to how well the placenta is working in pregnancy. This could also lead to the development of new, personalised treatments that prevent these complications from happening.