Researchers move closer to better care for life-threatening pregnancy condition

Oregon State University scientists have produced a proof of concept for a new and better way of caring for women facing the life-threatening situation of ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the lining of the uterus.

Olena Taratula of the OSU College of Pharmacy and Leslie Myatt of Oregon Health & Science University led a team of researchers that used pregnant mice to develop a novel nanomedicine technique for diagnosing and ending ectopic pregnancies, which are non-viable and the leading cause of maternal death in the first trimester.

Findings were published in the journal Small.

The study is important because 2% of all pregnancies in the United States, and between 1% and 2% worldwide, are ectopic, the authors note. In the U.S. alone that translates to approximately 100,000 ectopic pregnancies annually.

About 98% of ectopic implantations happen in the fallopian tubes, putting women at risk of hemorrhage and death. Complicating matters are a high misdiagnosis frequency — ultrasound yields an incorrect diagnosis 40% of the time — combined with a 10% failure rate of the primary drug, methotrexate, used to end an ectopic pregnancy.

Roughly 70 women in the U.S. die each year from ectopic pregnancies, which are responsible for 10% of all pregnancy-related deaths. Women who survive often struggle with a range of issues resulting from diagnosis and treatment, Taratula said.

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