More than 80 percent of preterm births can be spotted in advance with a blood test during the second trimester of pregnancy, a new study suggests.
The blood test screens for three newly identified proteins and six previously discovered proteins, said researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. Women who go on to have complications associated with premature birth have higher levels of these proteins in their blood than women who have healthy pregnancies, they said.
The sooner doctors can know about a preterm birth, the more action they can take to try to prolong pregnancy and prevent health problems for the baby, said Dr. Sean Esplin, an associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Utah.
"With preterm birth, if we could even prolong a pregnancy by one or two weeks, we could make a very big impact on the number of babies that survive and make sure that those that survive are healthy," Esplin said in a statement. "With just one intervention, we could have a really huge impact.”
For the study, the researchers took blood samples from 80 women during their 24th week of pregnancy, and then another 80 women during their 28th week of pregnancy. Half the women carried their babies to term, and the other half had babies who were born prematurely.
Researchers found that the blood test was able to predict more than 80 percent of premature births at both 24 and 28 weeks.
"This test may dramatically improve our ability to identify moms at risk for spontaneous preterm birth, which we currently cannot do adequately," Dr. Antonio Frias, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, said in a statement. Frias was not involved with the research.
Researchers said more studies must be done with more women before the blood test can be used in the doctor's office. The test has been licensed to a company called Sera Prognostics. (Sera did not provide funding for the study.)
The study will be published in the May issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Pass it on: A blood test accurately predicted 80 percent of premature births in a small study.
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