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Our development of the ExoCounter assay, which detects placental small extracellular vesicles in maternal blood, offers a promising and resource-efficient method for screening the early-onset variant of Preeclampsia. This project is supported by global collaboration and funding to enhance its application in diverse populations.

Addressing Early-Onset Preeclampsia: A Global Challenge

Preeclampsia (PE), particularly its early-onset variant (EOPE), presents significant risks in maternal-fetal healthcare globally. EOPE, being more severe, increases the likelihood of iatrogenic pre-term birth and fetal mortality. Identifying effective preventive measures is crucial to improving outcomes for mothers and babies worldwide.

Importance of Early Screening and Aspirin Prophylaxis

Aspirin has been identified as an effective prophylaxis for EOPE, but its efficacy depends on administration early in pregnancy. Therefore, screening patients in the first trimester is vital to identify those at risk and begin timely intervention.

Innovative ExoCounter Assay Development

In response to the need for early screening, Dr Wei Zhang and her team have developed an ExoCounter assay to detect and quantify placental small extracellular vesicles (psEVs) in maternal circulation. This innovative method has shown that psEVs are significantly higher in the first-trimester plasma of EOPE patients and in serum samples from additional EOPE patients during the validation process.

Promising Results and Potential Impact

Our findings indicate that the novel ExoCounter assay holds promise as a less resource-intensive method for screening women at higher risk of EOPE in the first trimester. This early detection could provide a critical window for EOPE prophylaxis, thereby reducing associated mortality and morbidity.

Expanding Research with Global Collaboration

Thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the support of our collaborators, we can now extend our analysis of psEVs to a larger cohort of first-trimester serum samples from Tanzania, representing a low- and middle-income country.

This work is a collaborative effort involving academia, industry, and charitable organisations to develop an effective screening tool for the early diagnosis of EOPE.


This global collaboration underscores the importance of innovative research and partnerships in addressing significant healthcare challenges. By improving early detection and prophylaxis of EOPE, we can make substantial strides in reducing maternal and fetal health risks worldwide.

Our Research Groups