Cheap Blood Test May Predict Premature Birth

Cheap Blood Test May Predict Premature Birth

The women gave blood samples during the second or third trimester of their pregnancy, and of them, 15 ended up having preterm deliveries.

"This work is the result of a fantastic collaboration between researchers around the world", said co-author Stephen Quake, Professor at the Stanford University in US. The test was tried in fewer than 100 women.

Calling it "an exploratory study", the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology called the research "too premature to say anything about".

There's still a lot more work to do to validate this type of test before healthcare providers can use it. During pregnancy, cfRNA in the mother affects - and reflects - how far through development the fetus is. Preparing for an imminent birth can boost the survival rates of fragile infants.

A newly developed blood test can predict the gestational age and preterm birth risks of expecting mothers. So there is a great need for tests that can help predict early deliveries. At present, the test has a precision of about 45% in predicting a baby's birth time, compared with 48% of ultrasound in the first trimester of pregnancy. Ultrasound is expensive and not always feasible in low-resource settings, while maternal estimates may not be reliable. Estimates of menstrual periods can be imprecise.

Not knowing the exact number of weeks of a pregnancy means doctors may think a baby is overdue when it's not - and that can lead to unnecessary induction of labor, C-sections, extended postnatal care and increased medical expenses.

"For any country, the cost factor - socially, fiscally, medically - would be markedly reduced if there were to be such a technological methodology", said Gaither.

But what if there were a cheap way to predict a baby's birthday accurately, including the risk of a premature baby? "The first step in decreasing our premature births is identifying who is most at risk".

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The test measures the activity of genetic material, called RNA, coming from the foetus, placenta and mother that ends up in the blood steam.

For the study, the team used blood samples collected during pregnancy to identify which genes gave reliable signals about gestational age and prematurity risk.

Stevenson, M.D., principal investigator at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, describes the PCR-based tests, which can be carried out on a single blood sample, as effectively "eavesdropping on a conversation" among the mother, the fetus, and the placenta. Premature deliveries account for nine percent of births in the USA and are the leading cause of infant mortality in the country.

"We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery", said Melbye, who is also president and CEO of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

"This gives a super-high resolution view of pregnancy and human development that no one's ever seen before", Stanford postdoctoral scholar Thuy Ngo added.

For the study, the scientists studied 31 Danish healthy pregnant women.

A new blood test for pregnant women detects with 75-80 percent accuracy whether their pregnancies will end in premature birth.

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