Blood test may predict premature birth

Routine vaccinations are life-saving for many children. Just look at polio which once killed or disabled thousands and which has now been eradicated in the United States due to vaccination efforts. Before vaccines were developed for example rotavirus

Existing medical knowledge has no way of accurately assessing whether any pregnancy will result in an early delivery, but this test was shown to have identified women who would go on to deliver babies up to two months prematurely. Bits of "cell-free" RNA can be measured in the blood. Ultrasound is expensive and not always feasible in low-resource settings, while maternal estimates may not be reliable.

That highlights the "big question", Moley said: If this blood test - or any other test - becomes available, what can be done to prevent a woman from going into preterm labor?

"I've spent a lot of time over the years working to understand preterm delivery".

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. The estimates of gestational age given by the model were accurate about 45 percent of the time, which is comparable to 48 percent accuracy for first-trimester ultrasound estimates. "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.

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.

"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. These women each gave one blood sample during the second or third trimester of their pregnancies.

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To figure out how to predict pre-term birth, the researchers used blood samples from 38 women who were at risk for premature delivery.

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.

"RNA corresponding to placental genes may provide an accurate estimate of fetal development and gestational age throughout pregnancy", the report found. They also hope to identify targets for drugs that could delay premature birth.

Scientists from the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the University of Alabama-Birmingham also contributed to the study.

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. 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.

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