New blood test could prevent many premature birth deaths
Scientists have now developed an inexpensive blood test to predict the so-called due date of a pregnant woman. This test is then also intended to determine the probability of premature birth. This could save the lives of thousands of premature babies.
In their current research, Stanford University scientists developed a new blood test that can determine the day of birth and the risk of premature birth in pregnant women. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Science".
How accurate was the test?
The test, which detects changes in the circulating RNA in pregnant women, estimated the due date for the next two weeks in almost half of the cases. This was as accurate as the method currently used to determine the due date (ultrasound) and more accurate than calculating the date based on the woman's last menstrual period, the experts explain.
Test could prevent Caesarean section births
Using a similar analysis of RNA in the blood of eight women who had given birth prematurely, the researchers were able to correctly classify six of the pregnancies as premature births. If larger studies achieve comparable results, the test could become a tool to prevent unnecessary labor induction or Caesarean section births, the study's authors explain. It could also save the lives of babies who would normally have died because of their premature birth. Preterm delivery is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States, the researchers add. Every year, around 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide.
RNA signals change as pregnancy progresses
In the study, the scientists examined under the direction of Dr. Mads Melbye from the Statens Serum Institute in Denmark tested the blood of 31 Danish women. A blood sample was taken and analyzed every week of pregnancy. The researchers examined genes related to the placenta, maternal immune system, and fetal liver, and found that nine of these genes produce RNA signals that change significantly as pregnancy progresses.
Predictions were most reliable in the second and third trimesters
Dr. Quake, who also invented the first non-invasive prenatal blood test for Down syndrome, said that the genes relevant for gestational age are in the placenta and the test's predictions are most reliable in the second and third trimesters.
Further larger studies are needed
The researchers applied the test to two groups of women at risk of preterm delivery: pregnant women with premature contractions and patients who had already given birth to a previous pregnancy. When analyzing the blood of some women who had given birth prematurely, the team identified seven other genes that have an impact on premature birth. Dr. According to Quake, the team is now developing plans for a large clinical trial in the general population.
Blood test may not replace ultrasound
The study shows that there are molecular milestones that are reached by the fetus and placenta and that can be detected with a blood test. While the blood test will not replace ultrasound scans because such scans also provide other important information, the researchers emphasize that they could become a reliable tool for identifying high-risk pregnancies. (as)