Preeclampsia is one of the world’s most dangerous pregnancy-related conditions, but it may have just gotten a little easier to diagnose thanks to a new, simple test.

Researchers from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital have developed a rapid test to diagnose preeclampsia, which would be both affordable and non-invasive. The test is a “red dye-on paper” variety, and has been piloted in a clinical study with an accuracy rate of 86 percent. Named Congo Red Dot, the test was developed to reduce morbidity among expecting mothers and their unborn children.

Preeclampsia is estimated to affect 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide, and is responsible for about 18 percent of maternal deaths in the U.S. Hallmarked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, the condition is the number one reason clinicians decide to deliver infants prematurely. Premature birth is a concern, in turn, because it increases the risk of learning disabilities and cerebral palsy. Preeclampsia can also lead to eclampsia, which causes 13 percent of maternal deaths globally, and can cause maternal and infant illnesses like seizure and coma. Experts have described preeclampsia as mysterious due to doctors’ difficulty diagnosing it.

Dr. Kara Rood, first author of the project detailing the new preeclampsia test, presented the findings at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual pregnancy meeting in Atlanta.

“This is the first clinical study using the point-of-care, paper-based Congo Red Dot diagnostic test, and the mechanism proved superior in establishing or ruling out a diagnosis of preeclampsia,” Rood said in a press release. “Our findings will have a huge impact on the health of women and children.”

For the study, the researchers enrolled 346 pregnant women to take the CRD urine test. Trained nurses analyzed the results, and administered additional biochemical tests for preeclampsia. Eighty-nine percent of the women met the clinical diagnosis of preeclampsia, and 79 percent of the women had a medically-indicated preterm birth for preeclampsia, at an average delivery time of 33 weeks gestation. The test, with its 86 percent accuracy rate, proved itself as a simple, “sample in/answer out” clinical tool, according to Rood.

A few years ago, Dr. Irina A. Buhimschi, director of the Center for Perinatal Research in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s, led a team to discover preeclampsia may result from improperly folded proteins. They studied the urine of pregnant women with preeclampsia, and characterized the range of misfolded proteins to allow the creation of the CRD test. Initial results were published in 2014.

“This new point-of-care test is a more user-friendly version than the one in this publication, and can help identify preeclampsia even before clinical symptoms appear,” Buhimschi said.

Source: Rood K, Buhimschi C, Dible T, Webster S, Zhao G, Samuels P, et al. Point-of-care congo red dot (CRD) test for antenatal triage and rapid identification of preeclampsia (PE). American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2016.