Scientists from the U.S. and Denmark have developed a blood test that accurately predicts 75% to 80% of preterm delivery.
Recent research from the USA has shown that the number of premature births climbed to 9.93pc in 2017, up from 9.86 in 2016, making it the third consecutive annual increase after steady declines over the previous seven years.
Prof Basky Thilaganathan, a Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesman, said: "Complications from premature birth are a leading cause of infant mortality and affect 7-8% of all births in the UK".
The Stanford team read these signals not just from the mom's cells but also from the fetal cells that flow into the mother's blood.
"Our test was able to predict 80.3% of women who went on to have any preterm birth, at 15 to 20 weeks gestation", Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, an associate professor and director of Precision Health and Discovery at the University of California, San Francisco's Preterm Birth Initiative and coauthor of the study, tells CNN.
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. "The model's two most important features, CGA and CGB, encoding chorionic gonadotropin α and β3 subunits of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), are known contributors to pregnancy initiation", the authors point out.
The test can also be used to estimate the mother's due date "as reliably as and less expensively than ultrasound", said the report in the journal Science.
Parents have long yearned for a simple test that could accurately predict a mother's due date, and her risk of a premature birth. From seven cfRNA biomarkers, six out of eight preterm cases were correctly identified. 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.
There is now no reliable way to predict when a pregnancy will result in premature birth, one of the world's primary causes of fetal sickness and death, Dr. Kecia Gaither, director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health+Hospitals in Bronx, New York, said in an email.
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.
They acknowledge that their studies will need verifiying in much larger, ethnically diverse cohorts, including women who aren't already known to be at risk of preterm birth.
"These cfRNA PCR-based tests have two advantages over alternatives: broader applicability and lower cost", they conclude.
To see if they could pick out preterm from full-term pregnancies, the researchers scanned all the free-floating RNAs in women's blood and found 38 had levels that were distinctive for each group. "Conceivably, similar approaches will prove to be useful for identifying and monitoring fetuses with congenital defects that can be treated in utero-a rapidly growing area of fetal medicine".
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