Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Blood test may predict premature birth

Blood test may predict premature birth

Specifically, the team targeted the RNA in the mother's blood.

"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", he added. Previously, the best available tests for predicting premature birth worked only in high-risk women, such as those who had already given birth prematurely, and were correct only about 20 percent of the time.

Counting weeks from one's last period is the age-old method but it depends on memory and is often imprecise. This is much less expensive than standard ultrasound procedures. Provisional data for 2017 from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate in the US has reached 9.93%, up from 9.86% in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

This finding is important as doctors do not now have ways to accurately assess which pregnancies will end with a premature birth, March of Dimes notes.

Preterm births occur in approximately 12 percent of all live births in the USA - and it is the cause of about 70 percent of newborn deaths, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. A blood test to detect Down syndrome that was developed by Quake's team in 2008 is now used in more than 3 million pregnant women per year, he noted. The latest research evaluated whether the same method could be developed into blood tests for estimating both gestational age and the risk of preterm birth.

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Under the headline, "Toward more predictable birthdays", the team of researchers described a pilot study of 31 healthy pregnant women. The results showed that cfRNA measurements during the course of a pregnancy showed differing time courses, dependent on their tissue of origin. "We had this idea that we could make a molecular clock to see how these things change over time and it should allow you to measure gestational age and see where things are in pregnancy". 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. "It tells us a lot about human development in normal pregnancy".

Researchers have developed an cheap blood test they say can predict a pregnant women's due date and potentially identify women at risk for of preterm birth; Virginia's governor has expanded Medicaid in the state; and the American Medical Association is expected to take a stance on over-the-counter birth control this weekend.

The appeal of such tests is obvious, especially to pregnant women.

In a related study of another 38 women, all at elevated risk of delivering preterm, the researchers identified seven nucleic acids that accurately classified women who delivered preterm up to two months in advance of labour. So there is a great need for tests that can help predict early deliveries.

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