Blood test may predict premature birth

10 June, 2018, 15:59 | Author: Kara Nash
  • Premature birth test being trialled

According to researchers, the low-priced test is as accurate as ultrasound, the current and more expensive method. 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.

According to the researchers, until now, doctors have lacked a reliable way to predict whether pregnancies will end prematurely, and have struggled to accurately predict delivery dates for all types of pregnancies.

Describing the blood test, the research team's principal investigator, David Stevenson, likened it to "eavesdropping on a conversation" between the mother, the foetus and the placenta, without disturbing the pregnancy. "To date, no test on the market can reliably predict which pregnant moms will go on to preterm labor", comments Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes.

Also, they don't predict spontaneous preterm birth, a leading cause of infant death. And while the blood test is unlikely to replace ultrasound, which provides other important information, "I think it will add another dimension to identifying high-risk pregnancies".

The research is still at a nascent stage and was based on data obtained from a small number of women.

The gestational-age test was developed by studying a cohort of 31 Danish women who gave blood weekly throughout their pregnancies.


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.

The test, which detects changes in RNA circulating in a pregnant women's blood, estimated due dates within two weeks in almost half the cases, making it as accurate as the current, more expensive method, ultrasound, and more accurate than guesses based on a woman's last period.

A similar analysis of RNA was carried out on eight women who delivered prematurely and researchers were able to classify six of the pregnancies as preterm. 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 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. For premature birth, meanwhile, there's no current test to predict if that's likely to take place.

It has been found that certain genes give "signals" from which the risk of premature birth can be calculated even two months earlier than expected.

One simple blood test, also developed by Quake's team, can tell newly pregnant women if they are carrying a child with Down syndrome.

Now, using powerful genetic techniques, Stanford scientists are closing in on that dream with a preliminary tool that requires only a pregnant woman's blood sample.

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