New blood test for pregnant women 'can predict' premature birth

Premature birth test being trialled

This shows that the test is more reliable than the ultrasound and is much cheaper and faster.

There have been several studies on preterm births in the past, and the reasons for it. Recently released provisional data for 2017 from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate in the US has reached 9.93 percent, up from 9.86 in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.

"In the case of the preterm prediction, "[it's] mostly maternal genes" producing the relevant RNA, rather than the placenta-based transcripts from the due-date predictor, says Stanford University graduate student Mira Moufarrej, a lead author of the study, in a press release. In general, there is a difficulty in predicting precisely the date of all births.

"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.

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Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. 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".

He said that the findings affirmed the existence of a "transcriptomic clock of pregnancy" that could serve as a new way to assess the gestational age of a fetus.

Although science has developed detailed cellular and molecular portraits of both fetal and placental development, there still aren't "molecular tests that reliably predict gestational age for individual pregnancies".

At the same time, another part of the study looked at a separate group of pregnant women.

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Researchers have developed an low-priced blood test they say can predict a pregnant women's due date and potentially identify women at risk for of preterm birth; Virginia's governor has expanded Medicaid in the state; and the American Medical Association is expected to take a stance on over-the-counter birth control this weekend.

Using a similar analysis of RNA in blood from eight women who delivered prematurely, the researchers were able to correctly classify six of their pregnancies as preterm.

When a woman gives birth prematurely - deemed to be before 37 weeks - a number of potential complications can arise for the baby, ranging from physical development issues to behavioural and neurological disorders.

The researchers used blood samples from 31 women to create a model that allowed them to estimate the fetus' age based on nine free-floating RNAs, according to The Guardian.

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Dr. Quake, who invented the first noninvasive prenatal blood test for Down syndrome, said that the team is planning to go for a trial with a larger population to collect more data for the research. The women gave blood samples during the second or third trimester of their pregnancy, and of them, 15 ended up having preterm deliveries.

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