Simple Blood Test Could Detect Preterm Birth Risk

Testing for preterm births
Keeping babies in the womb longer

In a forthcoming article in the May issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers report that they have developed a way to test an expecting mom in her 24th week of pregnancy to see if she’s likely to deliver prematurely.

This could be big news for obstetrics, because the problem of preterm birth is a serious one and it’s been hard to know in advance and intervene before it’s too late. Almost thirteen percent of babies in the U.S. are born before 37 weeks. We know that every day a baby is able to stay in the womb is important for development, so detecting preterm births early would be a huge step.

The test could be on the market soon, and here’s how it would work:

Since 2002, researchers from Brigham Young and the University of Utah have been studying certain molecular markers — peptides and small proteins — in a pregnant woman’s body, the levels of which are unique to those headed for preterm birth. They identified three new biomarkers that can spot 80 percent of premature births in the 24th week of pregnancy, and the markers can be detected with just a drop of mom’s blood. They’re hoping to have the test available in early 2012.

Earlier this month, we learned that with a simple hormone intervention, doctors can keep babies in the womb longer. If moms that are likely to spontaneously deliver early can be spotted and offered a simple treatment, this could be really important progress towards lowering the rate of preterm births in this country.

Image: flickr