Blood Tests Developed That Identify Women at Risk of Preterm Birth

New Blood Test Could Predict Pregnancy Due Date And Premature Births

"With further study, 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". Recently released provisional data for 2017 from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate in the USA has reached 9.93 percent, up from 9.86 in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

In the past, doctors have lacked a way to predict which pregnancies will end more than three weeks before the mother's due date.

"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.

And it is hard to accurately predict delivery dates, she said.

David K. Stevenson, M.D., the principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, described the noninvasive blood test approach as a way of "eavesdropping on a conversation" between the mother, the fetus and the placenta, without disturbing the pregnancy.

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Researchers were able to identify differences in RNA levels from seven genes between the two groups of women, accurately predicting which pregnancies would end up in preterm births up to two months prior to labor.

Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. It works by detecting the RNA that's circulating in the pregnant woman's blood, thereby providing vital information about the fetus's development. The study was led by Stephen Quake of Stanford University, who said that the test could provide a low-priced method of estimating a fetus' gestational age. The New York Times reported that the research, which is still in preliminary stages, detects changes in RNA in a pregnant woman's blood and can estimate due dates within 2 weeks in almost half the cases.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Science, the team, which was co-led by Dr. Mads Melbye, who runs the Statens Serum Institute in Denmark, analyzed the blood of 31 Danish women taken every week throughout their pregnancies, which were all full-term. Another set of women was tested using this model, which went on to accurately identified four out of five women who experienced premature births.

A New York Times report points out that 15 million babies are born prematurely in a year globally and this blood test can potentially save their lives.

"These tests hold promise for prenatal care in both the developed and developing worlds, although they require validation in larger, blinded clinical trials", the researchers reported. This time, they used blood samples from two previous studies involving 38 women with high-risk pregnancies. "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...."

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