Each year, an estimated 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm, or before the 37 weeks of pregnancy is completed. Despite advances in prenatal care, rate of preterm birth remains high even in developed countries such as the U.S. and the UK. 

More than a million babies born prematurely die each year of complications. Many of those who survive also face risks of learning disabilities, as well as hearing and visual problems. A new app, however, can help reduce the number of infant deaths and related complications.

Researchers from King's College London have developed the app called QUiPP to help health practitioners identify women who are more likely to give birth prematurely.

The app, which is available for free from the Apple store, was tested in two studies involving high risk women who do not show symptoms and women who show symptoms of early labor that do not often progress to real labor.

QUiPP uses an algorithm that combines the gestation of earlier pregnancies and cervix length with levels of the vaginal fluid called fibronectin to assess a woman's risk of giving birth prematurely.

In both studies published in Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers found that the app performed well in predicting risks for preterm birth. It is likewise far better compared with using earlier pregnancy, fetal fibronectin or cervical length as individual indicators.

"[Spontaneous preterm birth] in high-risk asymptomatic women can be predicted accurately using a model combining qfFN and CL, which supersedes the single-threshold fFN test, demographic information and obstetric history," study researcher Andrew Shennan, from King's College London, and colleagues wrote in one of the studies. "This algorithm has been incorporated into an App (QUiPP) for widespread use."

Shennan and colleagues said that doctors can use the app to improve the estimation of potential premature delivery. It can also be used when making clinical management decisions. Further work though would help determine if interventions could improve the pregnancy outcomes of women that the app has identified as high risk.

"The more accurately we can predict her risk, the better we can manage a woman's pregnancy to ensure the safest possible birth for her and her baby," Shennan said.

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