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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Jun;1022:306-16.

A serum proteomics approach to the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy.

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Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6080, USA.


An ectopic pregnancy (EP) occurs when implantation of the embryo occurs outside of the uterus. If left untreated, the developing fetus will continue to grow, leading to life-threatening consequences for the mother. A major difficulty with the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy is that methods of detection are limited, and some, such as ultrasound, are not very reliable in the earliest days of gestation. Currently, no effective serum test exists to distinguish an ectopic pregnancy from a normal intrauterine pregnancy. The incidence of ectopic pregnancy is increasing and has doubled in the last 20 years. It is now the second most common cause of maternal death in the first trimester of pregnancy. To address this issue, we initiated a project to identify serum markers of ectopic pregnancy. The subjects for these studies presented at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. We obtained over 140 serum samples from women with suspected ectopic pregnancy: women presenting with pain and/or bleeding in the first trimester of pregnancy. The approximate racial breakdown of the subjects is as follows: African American, 36%; Caucasian, 3%; Asian, 2%; Hispanic, 1%; unknown, 58%. Serum samples from 139 women (62 with ectopic pregnancy and 77 with a normal intrauterine pregnancy) were applied to WCX2 (weak ion exchange) protein chip surfaces and analyzed for serum markers using surface-enhanced laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (SELDI-TOF-MS). Several proteins in the 7500-18,000 Da mass range were identified that may discriminate an ectopic pregnancy from an intrauterine pregnancy. The most promising markers were analyzed using classification and regression tree analysis (CART) with and without clinical variables (serum hCG value, length of amenorrhea). Two different algorithms were developed that classify the patients on the basis of sensitivity (number of EPs who screen positive/# of EPs) or specificity (# of healthy patients who screen negative/# of healthy). Our current approach is to refine these two "rule sets" to segregate patients into three groups: those who need immediate intervention for a probable ectopic pregnancy, those who appear to have a normal pregnancy, and those who need further monitoring for diagnosis.

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