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This new blood test can predict due date and premature birth

10 June 2018

Researchers have developed an low-cost blood test they say can predict a pregnant women's due date and potentially identify women at risk for of preterm birth; Virginia's governor has expanded Medicaid in the state; and the American Medical Association is expected to take a stance on over-the-counter birth control this weekend. The women gave blood samples during the second or third trimester of their pregnancy, and of them, 15 ended up having preterm deliveries.

But what if there were a cheap way to predict a baby's birthday accurately, including the risk of a premature baby?

When a woman gives birth prematurely - deemed to be before 37 weeks - a number of potential complications can arise for the baby, ranging from physical development issues to behavioural and neurological disorders.

Ultrasound tests, now a familiar gold-standard procedure during pregnancy, can show a fetus' development but they're expensive so they're not ideal in poor communities around the world.

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Inaccurate estimates of due dates can sometimes lead to unnecessary induction of labor and Cesarean sections, with pain and increased medical expenses. "The first step in decreasing our premature births is identifying who is most at risk".

Work by the Stanford-led team had previously shown that the progress of pregnancy could be followed by measuring cfRNA from fetal tissues in maternal blood.

The tests measure the activity of maternal, placental and foetal genes by assessing maternal blood levels of cell-free RNA, tiny bits of the messenger molecule that carry the body's genetic instructions to its protein-making factories.

The study to predict women's due dates included expectant mothers in Denmark who submitted a blood sample each week throughout their pregnancies. "Our results are thus generally comparable to ultrasound measurements, can be performed throughout pregnancy, and do not require a priori physiological knowledge such as the woman's last menstrual period", the team states.

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"We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery", said Mads Melbye, a visiting professor at Stanford. "This gives a super-high resolution view of pregnancy and human development that no one's ever seen before", she said.

Stevenson, the principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, described the non-invasive blood test approach as a way of "eavesdropping on a conversation" between the mother, the fetus and the placenta, without disturbing the pregnancy. Another set of women was tested using this model, which went on to accurately identified four out of five women who experienced premature births.

The free-floating genetic material has proven to be a powerful tool for detecting other problems, as well.

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. Developed in 2008, the test is now used by more than 3 million pregnant women a year.

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This new blood test can predict due date and premature birth