New blood test for pregnant women 'can predict' premature birth

New blood test for pregnant women 'can predict' premature birth

Almost 9% of the babies in the U.S. are born premature which is the major reason for the death of children before the age of five across the globe.

Preterm births is the largest cause of infant mortality in the United States. In two-thirds of preterm births, the mother goes into labor spontaneously; doctors usually do not know why. Also, they don't predict spontaneous preterm birth, a leading cause of infant death.

Quake first became interested in this problem when he became a parent: his daughter was born almost a month premature. Added bonus: It's a "noninvasive" method that's cheaper than an ultrasound. Ultrasound is expensive and not always feasible in low-resource settings, while maternal estimates may not be reliable.

After more research is done and the test eventually comes to market, researchers say it will likely be simple and affordable enough to use in poor areas.

In the second test, researchers studied blood samples from 38 pregnant women who were already at risk of preterm labor because of early contractions or a previous preterm delivery. However, the test did not predict preterm births as all of the women had full-term pregnancies. While it's not exact, with accuracy at 45-percent, it's still close to the current benchmark method of ultrasound, which is 48-percent accurate. Specifically, the team targeted the RNA in the mother's blood.

In two separate cohorts of women, all at elevated risk of delivering preterm, the research team identified a set of cell-free RNA (cfRNA) transcripts that accurately classified women who delivered preterm up to two months in advance of labor. "While ultrasound gives us a good idea of how far along a given pregnancy is. what it doesn't tell us is when a given woman will deliver".

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When a woman gives birth prematurely - deemed to be before 37 weeks - a number of potential complications can arise for the baby, ranging from physical development issues to behavioural and neurological disorders.

"It's mostly maternal genes", Moufarrej said, noting that the genes that predict prematurity are different than those that give information about gestational age. "We think it's mom sending a signal that she's ready to pull the ripcord".

The researchers noted that both tests will require validation in larger, blinded clinical trials.

"If we can use a mother's blood to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to people that don't have access to ultrasounds, then hopefully that means healthier babies and healthier pregnancies".

Other Stanford authors of the paper are graduate student Keli Liu; postdoctoral scholar Joan Camunas-Soler, PhD; research affiliates Wenying Pan, PhD, Jennifer Okamoto and Norma Neff, PhD; senior research scientist Ronald Wong; Robert Tibshirani, PhD, professor of biomedical data science and of statistics; Gary Shaw, DrPH, professor of pediatrics; and David Stevenson, MD, professor of pediatrics. A study by the University of Pennsylvania linked such births to changes in the mother's bacteria.

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