New test can predict which pregnancies will turn into a premature delivery

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, December 14, 2019
A new test can predict which pregnancies will turn into a premature delivery
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new blood test for pregnant women than can detect whether their pregnancies will end in premature birth.

The tiniest of tiny, preemies, weighing in at three, two, even one pound are being born, surviving and thriving.

Right now, there's no telling which moms will deliver early and which ones will go the full 40 weeks.

But soon a simple blood test may be able to pinpoint a due date and save little lives.

You could say Haven and his mom are both heroes. Haven's mother Amanda Smith said, "I tell people this is like a war zone, only this time it's not my life on the line, it's my little innocent child's."

Smith, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, gave birth to Haven 100 days early, weighing just nine-tenths of a pound. "It's about the size of coke can," Smith said.

Haven is one of 450,000 babies in the United States born prematurely each year. For two-thirds of those deliveries, no one knows why.

"When people think about what tools an obstetrician has right now to look at a pregnancy, it's ultrasound and that's it," Mira Moufarrej, a bioengineering PhD student at Stanford University said.

Now bioengineers at Stanford have developed a blood test that detects with 80 percent accuracy who will deliver early, something that ultrasound cannot do.

"It tells you more about what's going on in the process of building a baby and what might go wrong," Moufarrej explained.

The test looks at RNA molecules found in the mother's blood.

"Looking at those seven types of RNA molecules, they're higher in women who deliver preterm than full-term," Moufarrej said.

The team hopes doctors will then be able to start treatments that will delay delivery.

Haven spent the first 241 days of his life in the hospital, has had seven surgeries since birth, he's on oxygen and takes 18 syringes of medication daily.

But as his mom says, he's a fighter. Smith said to Haven, "I get to watch you stand up, smile, and give people hope."

In low-resource settings, a test to predict time to delivery has tremendous potential to impact women's health, particularly for disadvantaged women with limited access to hospitals.

Because a blood test is cheap and easy to use, it has the potential to complement ultrasound and expand access to good prenatal care.