Friday, 19 October, 2018

Blood test might predict due date, premature birth risk

Pregnant Woman receives an ultra Sound in this undated stock Pregnant Woman receives an ultra Sound in this undated stock
Samantha Long | 10 June, 2018, 15:57

He said the test could eventually provide a low-priced method of gauging the gestational age of a developing fetus.

The technique can also be used to estimate a foetus' gestational age - or the mother's due date - as reliably as and less expensively than ultrasound. Researchers then identified set of cfRNA transcripts that could be used to classify women that would deliver up to two months ahead of labor. The researchers are planning a much larger study to see if the test works when applied to a broader population of women.

Preterm births is the largest cause of infant mortality in the United States.

It is estimated that around 15m babies are born early across the world each year, equating to more than one in 10 births, with more than 1m of those dying shortly after.

"We found that some genes are very good predictors of what women are at risk of giving birth prematurely".

Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford, is a senior author on the paper, hopes that the blood test will give women "a safer and more comfortable pregnancy, both physically and psychologically". The researchers studied genes linked to the placenta, the maternal immune system and the fetal liver, and found nine of those genes produce RNA signals that change distinctly as pregnancy progresses.

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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. While it's not exact, with accuracy at 45-percent, it's still close to the current benchmark method of ultrasound, which is 48-percent accurate.

So now, new research funded by the U.S. infant research group March of Dimes has published its findings on an experimental blood test that might be able to detect when a pregnant woman is likely to deliver her baby prematurely.

For the study, the team used blood samples collected during pregnancy to identify which genes gave reliable signals about gestational age and prematurity risk.

A second study on volunteers determined to be at a greater risk of delivering prematurely looked for combinations of genes that were associated with pre-term delivery. "It tells us a lot about human development in normal pregnancy", she said. Using combinations of particular transcripts, they were able to pick out six of eight pregnancies that ended early and misclassified one out of 26 that went full-term, among a subset of women who were known to be at high risk for prematurity.

"The strength of the study is showing there are molecular milestones that are achieved by the fetus and by the placenta", she said. Specifically, the team targeted the RNA in the mother's blood.

To Dr. Edith Cheng, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine and medical genetics at the University of Washington, the study's real significance is that it "cracked the door a little bit into potentially finding out how a fetus talks to the mother, what makes a pregnancy go".

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