A newly developed blood test can predict the gestational age and preterm birth risks of expecting mothers. The test can potentially help prevent the largest cause of infant mortality in the United States by helping mothers and their medical team to prepare for and potentially prevent premature birth complications in the future.
Gestational Age And Preterm Birth Predictor
Despite medical advancements, doctors still do not have a very reliable method of predicting whether a pregnancy may end up in a premature birth, especially in settings where resources are scarce. So far, the ultrasound is still the main method of predicting gestational age, but it can be rather expensive and it still can't predict spontaneous preterm births, which is the leading cause of infant death in the United States.
Now, a team of researchers led by scientists from Stanford University created an inexpensive blood test that does not just accurately predict gestational age, but also predicts whether a pregnancy may end up in spontaneous preterm birth. It works by detecting the RNA that’s circulating in the pregnant woman’s blood, thereby providing vital information about the fetus’s development.
In the pilot study, which involved 31 healthy pregnant women, the blood test predicted gestational age with an accuracy that’s comparable to that of an ultrasound, but at significantly cheaper costs. However, the test did not predict preterm births as all of the women had full-term pregnancies.
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. The women gave blood samples during the second or third trimester of their pregnancy, and of them, 15 ended up having preterm deliveries.
Researchers were able to identify differences in RNA levels from seven genes between the two groups of women, accurately predicting which pregnancies would end up in preterm births up to two months prior to labor.
“We think it’s mom sending a signal that she’s ready to pull the ripcord,” said Mira Moufarrej, coauthor of the study, also stating that the genes that predict gestational age and premature births are different.
Premature births are incidences in which a baby is delivered at least three weeks too early, and it affects 9 percent of births in the United States. It affects 15 million infants worldwide and in many cases, the mother goes into labor spontaneously, and doctors still do not know why.
Such cases are the main reason for why the researchers’ development is very important to mothers worldwide. It does not just predict gestational age, but it also predicts possible preterm labor, which could give mothers and their health care providers the advantage of properly preparing for such an event.
So far, researchers are preparing to conduct the test in larger populations before making the test available to the public, and also to fully understand the mechanisms behind preterm births.
The study is published in the journal Science.