Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Novel blood test to identify premature birth

Novel blood test to identify premature birth

The technique can also be used to estimate a foetus's gestational age - or the mother's due date - as reliably and less expensively than ultrasound.

Premature birth affects 15 million babies each year worldwide and is on the rise in the United States.

The test, described in a paper publishing online today in Science, is a big step forward for babies.

That possibility is nearing reality, according to studies led by a team of researchers at Stanford University.

The Stanford test detects the activity of genes in the mother, fetus and placenta by measuring levels of cell-free RNA, the loose pieces of genetic material that course through our veins, cast off by dying cells.

The study to predict women's due dates included expectant mothers in Denmark who submitted a blood sample each week throughout their pregnancies.

'We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery, ' said Melbye. "This is the first real, significant scientific progress on this problem in a long time". Almost 9% of the babies in the U.S. are born premature which is the major reason for the death of children before the age of five across the globe. Another set of women was tested using this model, which went on to accurately identified four out of five women who experienced premature births.

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Quake first became interested in this problem when he became a parent: his daughter was born almost a month premature. That's similar to the accuracy rate of ultrasounds during the first trimester, the researchers said.

After more research is done and the test eventually comes to market, researchers say it will likely be simple and low-priced enough to use in poor areas.

Stanford and Danish researchers examined the blood of more than 31 women every week during their pregnancies. The women all had full-term pregnancies. Further development and validation of an initial model resulted in the identification of a panel nine placenta-specific RNAs (CGA, CAPN6, CGB, ALPP, CSHL1, PLAC4, PSG7, PAPPA, and LGALS14) in maternal blood that could predict gestational age. Doctors now rely on ultrasound imaging or the mother's estimate of her last menstrual period to predict the gestational age of a fetus. They collected their blood samples and looked into the genetic RNA particles circulating in the blood stream of each woman.

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.

"Two-thirds of these occur spontaneously, and it would be beneficial to be able to identify which pregnancies are at risk", the researchers report. "We think it's mom sending a signal that she's ready to pull the ripcord". He adds that such a blood test would be especially useful in developing countries where ultrasound is not readily available. A study by the University of Pennsylvania linked such births to changes in the mother's bacteria.

"RNA is what's happening in the cells at any given moment", said Dr. Quake, co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, which funded the study along with others. 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. The Department of Bioengineering is jointly operated by the schools of Medicine and of Engineering.

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