UI Health doctors to study new diagnostic test for preeclampsia in Africa 

Irina and Gelila
Dr. Irina Buhimschi and Dr. Gelila Goba. (Photo: Eleanor Nelson/UIC)

Researchers from University of Illinois Chicago have received funding to study a novel diagnostic kit for preeclampsia. 

Preeclampsia is pregnancy-related hypertension that can occur at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Left untreated, preeclampsia can disrupt fetal growth and lead to preterm birth and stillbirth. In mothers, it can also cause kidney and liver failure and culminate in seizures, coma and death. Delivery of the baby is the most effective treatment, and blood pressure usually returns to normal once this takes place. 

In communities with limited access to health care, the diagnosis of preeclampsia relies primarily on a combination of blood pressure and urine protein tests. However, there are no definitive means for diagnosing preeclampsia, said Dr. Gelila Goba, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UIC College of Medicine. Goba is co-principal investigator of the study, along with Dr. Irina Buhimschi, also an OBGYN professor at UIC. 

Buhimschi is one of the inventors of the Congo Red Dot test, a urine test for preeclampsia. Co-developed by researchers at Yale University, the test has been licensed for commercial development.  

The study will take place in Ethiopia and Uganda over the next nine months. If successful, it could lead to clinical use in these countries and serve as a model for adoption across Africa and the developing world. In developing countries, the challenge in diagnosing preeclampsia is greater due to lack of equipment and limited access to prenatal care. 

“Our study aims to introduce a new technology simultaneously in Ethiopia and Uganda with a goal of developing clinical protocols and understanding the potential barriers to integration of novel preeclampsia diagnostics,” Goba said. 

“We believe every pregnancy should be supported with access to tools that promote healthy moms and babies,” Buhimschi said. “Testing for pre-eclampsia is an important preventive intervention and we aim to help ensure every health care provider in the world has access to testing and understands how best to use it no matter the continent or country where they live.”

The study received $496,472 Canadian dollars from Grand Challenges Canada, a Canadian nonprofit organization funded by the Government of Canada and other partners to support global health, humanitarian and Indigenous innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. 

Several academic institutions in Africa will be collaborating with UIC, including Makerere University in Uganda and Jimma University in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists will coordinate activities in Ethiopia. Gynuity Health Projects, a nonprofit research organization based in New York City with extensive experience in international clinical trials will provide technical assistance. 

Buhimschi received prior funding for her work with the Congo Red Dot test for preeclampsia from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Grand Challenges Initiative, as well as the United States Agency for International Development and Saving Lives at Birth. Goba received funding from the IDP Foundation, a Chicago private nonprofit foundation that supports research, graduate medical education, and partnership in Ethiopia and Uganda that serves as the institutional framework for the forthcoming study. 

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