A team led by Professor Louise Kenny from University College Cork found 14 new metabolites that can accurately predict the risk of pre-eclampsia in women pregnant for the first time.
Professor Kenny said: 'Everything we know about this condition suggests women do not become sick and present with pre-eclampsia until late in pregnancy, but the condition originates in early pregnancy.'
Clinicians need to know who is at risk in early pregnancy to offer effective treatment and prevention, she added.
The researchers assessed 60 healthy, first-time pregnant women who went on to develop pre-eclampsia. These were matched to a control group of 60 women.
Data from blood samples taken at 15 weeks was assessed and tested for metabolites. Signatures of potential markers were compared between the two groups, to find those occurring at higher levels in women who later developed pre-eclampsia.
Researchers then validated the predictive power of the 14 markers by comparing metabolite levels in a test group of 39 women against a control group of 40 women.
They now plan to develop a single blood test to predict risk of developing the condition.
Researcher Dr Phil Baker at the University of Alberta said: 'In the next five years our aim is to develop a simple blood test that will be available to all pregnant women.'