September 24, 2018

New Blood Test May Help Predict Premature Births For Pregnant Women

10 June 2018, 03:56 | Silvia Roy

New Blood Test May Help Predict Premature Births For Pregnant Women

New Blood Test May Help Predict Premature Births For Pregnant Women

Researchers said the new test, which still needs more testing and improvement, may be a simpler, cheaper and perhaps more reliable method than ultrasounds in the future.

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

This finding is important as doctors do not now have ways to accurately assess which pregnancies will end with a premature birth, March of Dimes notes.

The innovation could "alert us to which women are at risk so they can be appropriately cared for", Stanford professor of bioengineering Stephen Quake, a senior author on the paper, said in a statement.

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Stevenson, M.D., principal investigator at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, describes the PCR-based tests, which can be carried out on a single blood sample, as effectively "eavesdropping on a conversation" among the mother, the fetus, and the placenta.

And it is hard to accurately predict delivery dates, she said.

Two thirds of preterm births are spontaneous, but identifying at-risk pregnancies has proven problematic, and "efforts to identify genetic causes and risk factors have had limited success.", the researchers suggest.

He added that the findings affirm the existence of a "transcriptomic clock of pregnancy" that could serve as a new way to assess the gestational age of a foetus.

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"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. The study was led by Stephen Quake of Stanford University, who said that the test could provide a low-priced method of estimating a fetus' gestational age.

To figure out how to predict preterm birth, the researchers used blood samples from 38 American women who were at risk for premature delivery because they had already had early contractions or had given birth to a preterm baby before. 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. From seven cfRNA biomarkers, six out of eight preterm cases were correctly identified.

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.

In another cohort of healthy pregnant women, the team found that measurement of nine cfRNA transcripts in maternal blood could predict gestational age with comparable accuracy to ultrasound.

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Now, using powerful genetic techniques, Stanford scientists are closing in on that dream with a preliminary tool that requires only a pregnant woman's blood sample. A newly developed blood test may help doctors predict preterm birth risks, thereby giving mothers a chance to reduce potential risks and complications.

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