Blood test may predict premature birth

Premature birth test being trialled

Premature birth test being trialled

He adds that such a blood test would be especially useful in developing countries where ultrasound is not readily available. "With further study", Dr. Stevenson suggests, "we might be able to identify specific genes and gene pathways that could reveal some of the underlying causes of preterm birth, and suggest potential targets for interventions to prevent it".

Recent research from the United States has shown that the number of premature births climbed to 9.93pc in 2017, up from 9.86 in 2016, making it the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

To date, doctors have no reliable way to predict if a pregnancy will result in premature birth.

"In the case of the preterm prediction, "[it's] mostly maternal genes" producing the relevant RNA, rather than the placenta-based transcripts from the due-date predictor, says Stanford University graduate student Mira Moufarrej, a lead author of the study, in a press release. "To date, no test on the market can reliably predict which pregnant moms will go on to preterm labor", comments Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes.

The new test tracks what's happening in pregnancy via genetic clues in the mother's blood.

He said the findings affirmed the existence of a "transcriptomic clock of pregnancy" that could serve as a new way to access the gestational age of a foetus.

Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford, is a senior author on the paper, hopes that the blood test will give women "a safer and more comfortable pregnancy, both physically and psychologically".

The scientists used blood samples from 21 of them to build a statistical model, which identified nine cell-free RNAs produced by the placenta that predict gestational age, and validated the model using samples from the remaining 10 women.

Additionally, using those same blood samples, the team found biomarkers in maternal blood that could estimate gestational age or delivery date with comparable accuracy to ultrasound, but possibly at lower cost. Researchers then identified set of cfRNA transcripts that could be used to classify women that would deliver up to two months ahead of labor.

For thousands of years, pregnant women have wondered about that and now a team of researchers may have hit upon a way to do it.

Dr. Quake, who invented the first noninvasive prenatal blood test for Down syndrome, said that the team is planning to go for a trial with a larger population to collect more data for the research. "They can be applied across the globe as a complement to or substitute for ultrasound, which can be expensive and inaccurate during the second and third trimester...." The women in the preterm birth analysis were African American, and they represented only two of many potential risk categories for premature delivery, which can also be caused by infection, inflammation, maternal stress and other factors, she said.

To develop the test, researchers examined blood samples from 31 Danish women to identify which genes gave reliable signals about gestational age and prematurity risk.

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