U.S. and Danish researchers yesterday said they have developed an affordable blood test that may predict with up to 80% accuracy whether a pregnant woman will give birth prematurely.
Quake's team found that, in women at increased risk of preterm delivery, the blood test predicted premature labor with 75 to 80 percent accuracy.
'We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery, ' said Melbye.
To develop the test, researchers examined blood samples from 31 Danish women to identify which genes gave reliable signals about gestational age and prematurity risk.
Doctors also need better methods for measuring gestational age, he added. Bits of "cell-free" RNA can be measured in the blood.
Doctors typically try to conduct an ultrasound during the first trimester, but not all mothers access early pre-natal care and later scans don't provide the same amount of information. Right now, it's pretty much an informed guess - and that's not just inconvenient, assumptions about when a baby is due can also lead to extra medical procedures for both the mother and the baby. Each woman gave a blood sample during the second or third trimester; 13 ultimately delivered prematurely.
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"I've spent a lot of time over the years working to understand preterm delivery". However, the test did not predict preterm births as all of the women had full-term pregnancies. Premature deliveries account for nine percent of births in the US and are the leading cause of infant mortality in the country.
The test detected the variations in RNA in a pregnant woman's blood and estimated due dates within two weeks in almost half the cases. Doctors now rely on ultrasound imaging or the mother's estimate of her last menstrual period to predict the gestational age of a fetus. The lead authors are former Stanford postdoctoral scholar Thuy Ngo and Stanford graduate student Mira Moufarrej.
They next studied two separate cohorts of pregnant women who were known to be at risk of premature birth either because of previous preterm deliveries or because they had experienced premature contractions. This shows that the test is more reliable than the ultrasound and is much cheaper and faster. A study by the University of Pennsylvania linked such births to changes in the mother's bacteria.
The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, the March of Dimes Prematurity Initiative Grant at the University of Pennsylvania and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, of which Quake is co-president.
While more research is needed before the test is ready for widespread use, experts say it has the potential to reduce fatalities and complications from the 15 million premature births per year worldwide. According to the news outlet, delegates from nation's largest physicians group are expected to vote on a resolution to encourage birth control manufacturers to submit applications to the FDA to switch the status of their pills from prescription to over the counter.