A blood sample may be enough to predict the date of delivery and if the baby will be premature. In Italy alone, 32,000 premature babies are born each year, 6.7% of newborns. In other countries, the situation is even worse: according to the WHO, 1 child in 10 in the world is born before the deadline. Preterm birth is also the leading cause of neonatal death. A team led by Stanford University decided to fight the phenomenon with a genetic test.
Nowadays, the method par excellence for estimating gestational age is ultrasound. If in our country it is now taken for granted, it is not so in the poorest areas of the world. In some countries, ultrasound is too expensive and therefore not always available. The test developed by the team is cheaper than ultrasound, so much more palatable for developing countries.
The blood test is able to assess the risk of premature birth in 75-80% of cases. As? In a previous study, Stanford researchers had shown that measuring the amount of circulating RNA helps to estimate the gestational age of the fetus. Starting from this discovery, they examined the genetic material of a group of pregnant women.
The first analyzes conducted on 21 women allowed to identify 9 types of circulating RNA coming from the placenta. In this way they managed to elaborate a statistical model, able to predict the time of delivery. The collected data provide information regarding the development of the fetus, with a precision difficult to obtain with other tools.
The second phase of the tests focused on the premature parts. The researchers involved 38 high-risk pregnant women, one third of whom then gave birth ahead of time. Doctors took a blood sample during the second and third quarters. Thanks to the test, they identified the genetic material of the mother and in particular the anomalies related to seven genes. The analyzes predicted the successive premature births with a degree of accuracy of about 75%. Nevertheless, the actual role of the genes involved is still unclear.