Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Blood test may find pregnant women at risk of premature birth

Blood test may find pregnant women at risk of premature birth

The other method, the ultrasound, can also be problematic because it gives less reliable information as a pregnancy progresses and doesn't predict spontaneous preterm birth (not to mention the equipment and trained technicians needed makes this option really expensive).

There have been several studies on preterm births in the past, and the reasons for it.

Recent research from the United States has shown that the number of premature births climbed to 9.93pc in 2017, up from 9.86 in 2016, making it the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

The researchers then applied the test to two groups of women at risk for preterm birth - patients at the University of Pennsylvania who had premature contractions and patients at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who had delivered prematurely in a previous pregnancy.

The innovation could "alert us to which women are at risk so they can be appropriately cared for", Stanford professor of bioengineering Stephen Quake, a senior author on the paper, said in a statement. In general, there is a difficulty in predicting precisely the date of all births.

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.

"By measuring cell-free RNA in the circulation of the mother, we can observe changing patterns of gene activity that happen normally during pregnancy, and identify disruptions in the patterns that may signal to doctors that unhealthy circumstances like preterm labour and birth are likely to occur", Stevenson said.

Preterm births occur in approximately 12 percent of all live births in the US - and it is the cause of about 70 percent of newborn deaths, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"RNA corresponding to placental genes may provide an accurate estimate of fetal development and gestational age throughout pregnancy", the report found.

This is why the latest research findings are so groundbreaking for women and infants. It's also similarly precise with the new blood test predicting the gestational age within two weeks 45 percent of the time compared to ultrasound's 48 percent accuracy.

To figure out how to predict pre-term birth, the researchers used blood samples from 38 women who were at risk for premature delivery. Using RNA sequencing technology, the team was able to identify a set of seven cfNRAS (CLCN3, DAPP1, PPBP, MAP3K7CL, MOB1B, RAB27B, and RGS18) that differentiated between the preterm and full-term samples. The gestational age blood test did not do a great job of predicting which women would deliver prematurely, suggesting those particular genes "may not account for the various outlier physiological events that may lead to preterm birth", the study said.

The blood test can predict with 80% accuracy whether a woman will give birth prematurely.

Next up will be larger-scale, blinded clinical trials, March of Dimes says, to validate the results.

Like this: