Industry News: Novel research tackling challenges in women’s health announced at the 2021 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting

The latest discoveries show potential in resolving persistent challenges in healthcare and lab testing for women

28 Sep 2021

Scientists have created a new test to measure antibodies in girls who have received a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. This new test and a second study establishing accurate reference intervals for pregnant patients were presented at the 2021 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo and could help tackle challenges in women’s health.

Monitoring HPV immunity after vaccination

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses, and research has linked HPV infections to reproductive cancers in both women and men. Most cases of cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection, which means that vaccinating girls against HPV is key to preventing and eliminating this cancer. 

Scientists have created a new test to measure antibodies in girls who have received a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Determining how long protection from HPV lasts after vaccination could help to bolster public confidence in the vaccine and increase uptake. 

A team led by Emmanuel Donkoh, PhD, of the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Sunyani, Ghana, created a rapid, high-throughput test to detect and quantify antibodies against HPV in Ghanaian girls. The scientists validated their test with blood samples from 49 pre-adolescent girls who received a quadrivalent HPV vaccine and 40 age-matched, unvaccinated girls. The test showed that immunoglobulin G antibodies for common types of HPV such as HPV-16 and -18 were much more prevalent among vaccinated girls three years after the third dose of the vaccine than unvaccinated girls (63.3% vs. 12.5% for HPV-16). 

Donkoh said: “Our results provide empirical evidence that the initial antibody response is sustained even at 36 months post-vaccination and around the average age of sexual debut for African girls. The higher HPV-16 and -18 antibodies among vaccinated girls emphasize the need to scale-up HPV vaccination among girls in the country."

Creating better reference intervals for pregnant patients

Another obstacle in women’s health is the lack of standardized reference intervals for patients who are pregnant or have just given birth. To correctly interpret lab test results, providers must evaluate results within the context of reference intervals, which are the range of normal test values that indicate a person is healthy. However, pregnancy affects proteins and other biomarkers measured by common lab tests. This means that using existing reference intervals for pregnant patients can lead to incorrect interpretation of their lab results, which can lead to subpar maternity care.

Vilte Barakauskas, PhD, Ann Tran, MD, and colleagues from the BC Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, have now established accurate reference intervals for coagulation tests commonly ordered for peripartum patients (i.e., patients about to or have just given birth). The research team collected and analyzed blood samples from an ethnically diverse group of more than 400 healthy patients with singleton pregnancies before and after delivery. 

Barakauskas’ team then calculated reference intervals using eligible test results from 196 of the participants. The new intervals revealed that peripartum patients have different levels of fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, and other proteins involved in bleeding and clotting compared with non-pregnant adults. 

“Lab testing in pregnant women should be compared to reference intervals specific for pregnancy,” said Tran. “If a lab does not have pregnancy-specific reference intervals, then any out-of-range lab values should be interpreted cautiously and with knowledge of how pregnancy itself can change lab values.” 

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