The Observatory

Dec. 19, 2015


New biomarker predicts development of preeclampsia at six weeks of pregnancy. Preeclampsia is generally diagnosed later in pregnancy, but new research could lead to diagnosis in the first trimester, improving care and potentially leading to the development of preventative measures.

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. It can lead to serious complications for the mother and baby, including reduced growth of the baby; seizures, stroke and multi-organ failure in the mother; or death of the mother or child. Often, the only cure is preterm delivery. New research presented recently at the American Physiological Society’s (APS) conference “Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Diseases: Physiology and Gender” reports that the protein copeptin can predict the development of preeclampsia as early as six weeks of gestation.

This development is significant, says lead investigator Mark Santillan, MD, because early identification of women at high risk of developing preeclampsia will enable healthcare providers to quickly respond and provide the appropriate level of care. “Clinically, this timeframe is the earliest a woman can find out if she is pregnant by an over-the-counter pregnancy test. A similar simple test could be developed to predict preeclampsia via  copeptin,” Santillan says.

Infectious Disease

Using copper to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. New research from the University of Southampton has found that copper can effectively help to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, which are linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Animal coronaviruses that “host jump” to humans, such as SARS and MERS, result in severe infections with high mortality. The Southampton researchers found that a closely-related human coronavirus, 229E, can remain infectious on common surface materials for several days, but is rapidly destroyed on copper.

A newly-published paper in mBio reports that 229E, which produces a range of respiratory symptoms from the common cold to more lethal outcomes such as pneumonia, can survive on surface materials including ceramic tiles, glass, rubber, and stainless steel for at least five days. While human-to-human transmission is important, infections can be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets from infected individuals, or hand touching, leading to a wider and more rapid spread.

On copper, and a range of copper alloys—which are collectively termed “antimicrobial copper”—the coronavirus was rapidly inactivated (within a few minutes, for simulated fingertip contamination). Exposure to copper destroyed the virus completely and irreversibly, leading the researchers to conclude that antimicrobial copper surfaces could be employed in communal areas and at any mass gatherings to help reduce the spread of respiratory viruses and protect public health.


Researchers identify genes linked to stress-triggered heart disease. Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Barrow Neurological Institute have identified genetic risk factors that are linked to stress-induced cardiomyopathy (SIC), a rare type of heart disease.

In a study published in the journal Neurosurgery, researchers report on the identification of new genetic risk factors through the use of genomic sequencing. Knowing which patients harbor the genes associated with SIC could help guide their care and treatment before, and after, they suffer a life-threatening stressor that
induces SIC.

Using ultra-high resolution cameras and supercomputers, researchers identified the suspect genes by next generation DNA sequencing, essentially by spelling out the billions of bits of information in the genomes of seven women who exhibited SIC following a brain aneurysm.

Among the gene variants identified in the study as associated with SIC are MYLK2, DSG2, FKTN, and LDB3. All these genes were previously known to play a role in other cardiac diseases, but not in SIC. These variants are extremely rare, but their identification suggests a way to identify patients at risk of SIC.

Alzheimer’s Disease

NIH supports new studies to find Alzheimer’s biomarkers in Down syndrome. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new initiative to identify biomarkers and track the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome. Many people with Down syndrome have Alzheimer’s-related brain changes in their 30s that can lead to dementia in their 50s and 60s. Little is known about how the disease progresses in this vulnerable group. The NIH Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease in Adults with Down Syndrome Initiative will support two teams of researchers using brain imaging, as well as fluid and tissue biomarkers in research that may one day lead to effective interventions for all people with dementia.

The link between Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome is well-known. People with Down syndrome are born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, which contains the amyloid precursor protein gene. This gene plays a role in the production of harmful amyloid plaque, sticky clumps that build up outside neurons in Alzheimer’s disease. Having three copies of this gene is a known risk factor for early-onset Alzheimer’s that can occur in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

The teams will employ an array of biomarkers to identify and track Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain and cognition for more than 500 Down syndrome volunteers. The measures include blood tests to identify biomarkers in blood, including proteins, lipids and markers of inflammation; and blood tests to collect DNA for genome-wide association studies that identify the genetic factors that may confer risk, or protect against,
developing Alzheimer’s.

Industry News

AABB and A2LA announce partnership to offer combined clinical laboratory accreditation. AABB and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) have announced the AABB/A2LA Accreditation Program. This clinical laboratory accreditation program combines three assessments in one: AABB accreditation, International Organization for Standardization 15189:2012, and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, or CLIA, requirements. AABB and A2LA accreditation programs are internationally-recognized by the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC)—A2LA—and the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua)—AABB.

In addition to combining three assessments in one, the AABB/A2LA Accreditation Program adds value to organizations by providing:

  • Third-party review by assessors who are quality-focused and uniquely trained technical experts;
  • Accreditation that has independently-earned Deemed Status from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • Assessment against an ISO standard that is not prescriptive and can be implemented based on the organization’s work culture and processes; and
  • Partners in accreditation that will provide an educational experience for laboratories navigating the ever-changing health delivery landscape.