Blood test may predict premature birth

Pregnant Woman receives an ultra Sound in this undated stock

"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".

Next, the scientists used a version of the model to see if they could predict a woman's risk of preterm delivery. It was as accurate as the current method of ultrasound and more accurate than guesses based on woman's last menstrual period. Ultrasound also requires expensive equipment and trained technicians, which are unavailable in much of the developing world. Right now, prematurity affects 9 percent of USA births, and preterm birth and its complications are the leading cause of death in children under age 5 worldwide. Provisional data for 2017 from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate in the USA has reached 9.93%, up from 9.86% in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

Moufarrej said that the test "would allow us to predict up to two months in advance of delivery a really important risk during pregnancy - spontaneous preterm birth". 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. 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 gestational-age test was developed by studying a cohort of 31 Danish women who gave blood weekly throughout their pregnancies. The results showed that cfRNA measurements during the course of a pregnancy showed differing time courses, dependent on their tissue of origin.

He said that the findings affirmed the existence of a "transcriptomic clock of pregnancy" that could serve as a new way to assess the gestational age of a fetus. "It tells us a lot about human development in normal pregnancy". By measuring certain nucleic acids (cell-free RNA transcripts) in maternal blood, they could predict gestational age with comparable accuracy to ultrasound but at a "substantially" lower cost.

When will a pregnant woman actually deliver her baby?

In a study of 38 women at risk of preterm delivery, RNA markers were also identified. From seven cfRNA biomarkers, six out of eight preterm cases were correctly identified.

Though his daughter is now 16 and doing well, the preemie experience stuck with the dad, who hopes the tests could help understand and reduce preterm births.

The journal Science reported in its June issue, published Thursday, a promising new study of "non-invasive" ways to monitor fetal development, and predict gestational age and pre-term delivery. These women each gave one blood sample during the second or third trimester of their pregnancies.

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