Around 15 million infants are born prematurely, or before their mothers pregnancy has reached seven and a half month, every year. This can have a knock on effect on their future health, and can have serious implications including brain damage. It’s also the leading cause of newborn disability and death in developed countries.

To try and address this issue, scientists have now developed a new blood test which is much more effective in predicting whether babies will be born prematurely. Unlike previous tests, which have very low rates of accuracy, the new test has shown to be 80% effective at predicting premature births in trials.

In addition, the tests were able to predict the estimated age of the foetus and the due date without the need for an ultrasound, but with the same level of accuracy. This could really improve the level of maternity care provided to pregnant women, especially in rural and remote areas where access to trained technicians is not available.

It could also improve the level of accuracy, which its hoped will reduce the number of unnecessary inductions or caesarean sections. “Unfortunately there’s no good test right now to figure out if a woman will deliver pre-term for a specific pregnancy. We felt this was an especially important problem to address”, said Mira Moufarrej, one of the study’s lead authors and a PhD researcher at Stanford University

The test works by assessing the messenger molecules in the patients blood. By using blood tests from various stages of their pregnancy, the researchers found that they were able to see which markers were elevated in the pregnancy, and how they were linked to the risks of a premature birth.

Mads Melbye, a professor who supervised the research said: “Pregnancy is the most critical period for the mother and child and pre-term delivery, which is the delivery after less than 30 weeks gestation, gives rise to most neonatal deaths and complications. So we really need to understand pregnancy in great detail. “We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for pre-term delivery. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working to understand pre-term delivery. This is the first real, significant scientific progress on this problem in a long time.”

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