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New blood test could identify risk of premature birth in pregnant women

Tuesday 12th June 2018
A new type of blood test has been developed that could help to identify women at risk of premature birth.
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Biomarkers associated with premature birth have been identified by researchers, potentially paving the way for new blood tests that can help to identify women at risk.

The research, led by Stanford University and funded by the US charity organisation March of Dimes, isolated a set of cell-free RNA transcripts that accurately classified women who delivered preterm up to two months in advance of labour. In another group of healthy pregnant women, measuring these markers in maternal blood was shown to be able to predict gestational age with a similar accuracy to an ultrasound scan.

This represents a potentially promising new way of accurately assessing which pregnancies will end with a premature birth, something that is not possible with existing technology. It could also be a cheaper way to get an estimate of gestational ages or delivery dates.

Researchers have likened the new method to "eavesdropping on a conversation" between the mother, the developing baby and the placenta without disturbing the pregnancy, while also gaining transcriptomic insights that make it easier than ever to understand the current progress of the foetus.

These tests will require validation in larger clinical trials before they can be considered for practical use, but they have the potential to revolutionise the quality of care offered to mothers and prematurely born infants.

Dr David Stevenson, principal investigator at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, said: "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.

"With further study, we might be able to identify specific genes and gene pathways that could reveal some of the underlying causes of preterm birth, and suggest potential targets for interventions to prevent it."

Written by Martin Lambert

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