New Blood Test Could Predict Pregnancy Due Date And Premature Births

Grant Boone
June 10, 2018

Scientists are working on a blood test that could one day predict your due date without the need for an ultrasound or asking you to remember when you had your last menstrual period. "With further study", Dr. Stevenson suggests, "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". Recently released provisional data for 2017 from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the preterm birth rate in the US has reached 9.93 percent, 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.

"We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery", said co-senior author Mads Melbye, a visiting professor at Stanford University and CEO of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen.

Describing the blood test, the research team's principal investigator, David Stevenson, likened it to "eavesdropping on a conversation" between the mother, the foetus and the placenta, without disturbing the pregnancy. In general, there is a difficulty in predicting precisely the date of all births.

Also, they don't predict spontaneous preterm birth, a leading cause of infant death.

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"RNA corresponding to placental genes may provide an accurate estimate of fetal development and gestational age throughout pregnancy", the report found. He added that today's findings affirm the existence of a "transcriptomic clock of pregnancy" that could serve as a new way to assess the gestational age of a fetus. By measuring certain nucleic acids (cell-free RNA transcripts) in maternal blood, they could predict gestational age with comparable accuracy to ultrasound but at a "substantially" lower cost.

The test detected the variations in RNA in a pregnant woman's blood and estimated due dates within two weeks in almost half the cases.

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. Using RNA sequencing technology, the team was able to identify a set of seven cfNRAS (CLCN3, DAPP1, PPBP, MAP3K7CL, MOB1B, RAB27B, and RGS18) that differentiated between the preterm and full-term samples. The genes that give information about a woman's due date are different from those that predict prematurity, the scientists noted.

While more research is needed before the test is ready for widespread use, experts say it has the potential to reduce fatalities and complications from the 15 million premature births per year worldwide. "They can be applied across the globe as a complement to or substitute for ultrasound, which can be expensive and inaccurate during the second and third trimester...."

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