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New method could improve heart failure detection in women

New cardiac research could save women’s lives by improving detection of heart failure

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A new study has the potential to advance how heart failure is detected in women, meaning more female patients could be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Researchers led by teams from the Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Sheffield and Leeds, have been able to fine-tune how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to detect heart failure in women’s hearts, making it more accurate.

“By refining the method for women specifically, we were able to diagnose 16.5pc more females with heart failure,” said lead author Dr Pankaj Garg, of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School and a consultant cardiologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“This could have huge impact in the NHS, which diagnoses around 200,000 patients with heart failure each year. This improved method will increase early detection, meaning more women can get life-saving treatment sooner.”

UEA and the University of Sheffield have previously published research which showed how using MRI scans could be used to detect heart failure and which led to this technique being widely employed by medics.

When a heart starts to fail, it is unable to pump blood out effectively, and so the pressure in the heart rises.

“Currently, one of the best ways of diagnosing heart failure is to measure pressures inside the heart with a tube called a catheter,” explained co-author Dr Gareth Matthews of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.

“While this is very accurate, it is an invasive procedure, and therefore carries risks for patients, which limits its use.

“For this reason, doctors tend to use echocardiograms, which are based on ultrasound, to assess heart function, but this is inaccurate in up to 50 per cent of cases. Using MRI, we can get much more accurate images of how the heart is working.”

The team was able to create an equation which allowed them to non-invasively derive the pressure in the heart using an MRI scanner.

However, previous use of this method was not as accurate as the researchers would have liked in diagnosing heart failure in women, especially in early or borderline disease.

Co-author Professor Andy Swift of the University of Sheffield’s School of Medicine and Population Health, said: “Women’s hearts are biologically different to men’s.

“Our work suggests that in heart failure women’s hearts may respond differently in response to increases in pressure.”

Heart failure can be classed differently, depending on the amount of blood squeezed out of the main chamber of the heart with every beat, known as the heart’s ejection fraction.

Women suffer disproportionately from a type of heart failure where the pumping function of the heart is preserved but the ability of the heart to relax and fill with blood is impaired.

Echocardiography struggles to diagnose this type of heart failure. The improvements in diagnosis from this new work are hoped to enable more of this particular cohort to be diagnosed more accurately and hopefully drive better treatments.

Co-author Dr Peter Swoboda of the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Medicine and Health, said: “The symptoms of heart failure, like breathlessness and fatigue, can have a devastating effect on patients’ quality of life.

“We are increasingly recognising the importance of early diagnosis and, early treatment can improve symptoms and life expectancy.

“This research will help diagnose heart failure in women more quickly and get them established on life-saving treatments sooner.”

The health and social care secretary, Victoria Atkins, added: “Heart failure is a devastating condition affecting hundreds of thousands of women in the UK, so this research is a hugely positive development that could make it possible for thousands of people to get diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage.

“For the second year of our Women’s Health Strategy for England, I have been clear that we need more research to look at the differences between how conditions affect men and women.

“I am delighted that this government-backed research has met this challenge so that we can get life-saving treatment to women faster.”

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Sorina Mihaila is the Femtech World editor, covering technology, research and innovation in women's health and wellbeing.

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Labcorp launches screening test to identify preeclampsia risk sooner

The new screening tool is capable of assessing the risk of preeclampsia sooner, the test maker says

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Labcorp has launched a screening test that can assess the risk of preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can develop during pregnancy or postpartum and is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Roughly one in 25 pregnancies in the US is affected by preeclampsia, which poses an even greater risk for non-Hispanic black women, who experience the condition at a 60 per cent higher rate compared to white women.

In January, Labcorp announced the launch and availability of an FDA-cleared blood test for risk assessment and clinical management of severe preeclampsia during the second and third trimesters.

The first trimester test uses four early pregnancy biomarkers to provide a risk assessment with up to 90 per cent sensitivity, nearly twice the sensitivity of assessing typical maternal history or biophysical factors alone.

According to Labcorp, the test results provide risk identification earlier than traditional symptoms, such as hypertension or protein in the urine, which tend to develop around 20 weeks gestation.

Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said: “Our organisation celebrates this innovative new test offering.

“Research shows that patients and providers want access to more tools that better predict progression to preeclampsia, especially for those patients with low- to average-risk or those with first-time pregnancies for whom there is some uncertainty.”

Dr Brian Caveney, chief medical and scientific officer at Labcorp, added: “Labcorp is committed to advancing maternal and foetal health through innovative diagnostic and screening solutions.

“This new first trimester blood test is another significant milestone in our mission to improve health and improve lives. By giving healthcare providers another tool to assess preeclampsia risk in their pregnant patients with objective biomarkers, we’re helping to advance prenatal care and improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.”

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People with HIV can be sperm and egg donors

A change in law will allow people with non-transmissible HIV in the UK to donate gametes to partners

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Same-sex couples with non-transmissible HIV will now be able to donate eggs or sperm and become parents.

People with HIV will able to donate their sperm or eggs to their partners, as the law in the UK is updated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act will be amended via a statutory instrument to allow people with non-transmissible HIV – with a viral load low enough not to pass on – to donate eggs or sperm, known as gametes, as part of fertility treatment to their partners.

Under current rules on IVF, only a male partner with HIV can give their sperm to their female partner and not to anyone else.

The law change will also eliminate extra screening costs for female same-sex couples undertaking reciprocal IVF treatment.

The government says this is part of wider work to improve access to IVF for everyone and ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive.

“These changes will allow more people to fulfil their dream of becoming parents,” said UK health minister, Maria Caulfield.

“We have changed the law to ensure equality for people living with HIV when accessing IVF, allowing them to donate their eggs and sperm.

“In addition, the change will allow female same-sex couples to access IVF with no extra screening costs, the same as heterosexual couples.”

She added: “These changes will help create a fairer system by removing barriers to accessing fertility care as we have set out in the Women’s Health Strategy.”

The changes to the law will allow people with HIV to donate their gametes to family, friends and known recipients.

The regulations include an updated definition of partner donation to enable female same-sex couples wishing to donate eggs to each other to undergo the same testing requirements as heterosexual couples.

Under current rules, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must first go through screening for syphilis and genetic screening, such as cystic fibrosis, which can cost over £1,000, while heterosexual couples do not need to undergo this screening.

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said: “The HFEA welcomes the news that legislation regarding partner donation in relation to reciprocal IVF, and gamete donation from those who have HIV with an undetectable viral load, has now been proposed in Parliament.

“Fertility treatment is helping more people than ever to create their family, and everyone undergoing fertility treatment should be treated fairly.

“For known donation from individuals with undetectable HIV, we anticipate that the first clinics may be able to begin to offer this treatment around 3 months following a change in the law.

“We encourage any patients or donors who may be affected by these changes to visit the HFEA website to find out free and impartial information, including about how to choose a fertility clinic.”

Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, added: “Treatment for HIV has improved significantly, saving countless lives, but the stigma surrounding it persists – a stigma which often prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

“These changes will help to reduce that stigma, making it clear that people with HIV can live full and happy lives. I am delighted by these changes which will enable more people to experience the joy of becoming parents.”

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Portfolia invests total of US$65m into women’s health companies

The platform has invested in 47 femtech start-ups to date

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Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia

The US venture investing platform Portfolia has announced it has invested a total of US$65m into women’s health companies and solutions.

Portfolia aims to create, educate and support the largest community of women investors in the world.

The company says it was amongst the first to recognise the “immense” potential of women’s wealth, with women’s health at the forefront.

To date, Portfolia has made investments in 112 companies with 47 of those women’s health companies being femtech and active aging specific.

Some of these include Madison Reed, Maven, Everly Health, Bone Health, Veana, Your Choice, Future Family, Willow, Hey Jane, Lighthouse Pharma, L-Nutra and JoyLux.

The total companies Portfolia has invested in are estimated to serve over 102 million customers in 115 countries worldwide.

These companies have a combined value of over US$17bn, with over US$1bn in revenue and 10,000 employees worldwide.

According to Portfolia, almost 70 per cent of these businesses are led by female CEOs, and 49 per cent are led by BIPOC individuals.

“At Portfolia, we believe in the power of activating our wealth for returns and impact,” said Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia.

“Today, women in the United States have unprecedented access to wealth – with over US$25tn of wealth in the US and almost 50 per cent of it owned by women.

“This wealth is power – power to create financial change and invest in the companies and businesses that matter to us and meet our needs/desires.”

She added: “Our commitment goes beyond traditional venture capital – we’re pioneering change, saving lives, and creating opportunities for all, while creating the most powerful community of women investors globally, and the first to activate our wealth to shape the future of healthcare.”

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