Experimental Test May Warn of Premature Births04/20/11
WEDNESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have
developed a blood test that they say could help physicians predict
whether pregnant women will deliver their babies prematurely.
The test isn't ready for prime time, however, and it's not
foolproof: a study found that it misses some premature births and
incorrectly predicts others.
Still, the test "should be an important tool for an obstetrician
who currently has no clue" if premature birth is a possibility
until it happens, said Brigham Young University (BYU) chemistry
professor Steven W. Graves.
Physicians will "be able to use a simple blood test and then
know that this woman is at increased risk or reduced risk of a
preterm birth," said Graves, whose laboratory performed the
research in the study.
About 10 percent of births are premature, and the rate rises to
30 percent among women who have already had a baby prematurely,
Graves said. Premature birth can lead to a long list of medical
problems and puts babies at risk of dying.
In the new study, the researchers examined blood samples from 80
women who went on to have normal births and 80 who had premature
births. They tried to find signs in the blood that indicate what
kind of birth the women would have.
The researchers developed a screening method that looked for
so-called peptide biomarkers in the blood that -- in tandem with
several other proteins -- predicted 80 percent to 90 percent of the
premature births at 28 weeks of gestation. The false positive rate
-- referring to tests that wrongly indicated premature birth -- was
The test wasn't as effective at 24 weeks of gestation.
"This may simply indicate that some of the causes for preterm birth may not pre-exist before the pregnancy," Graves said. "Most probably don't, but develop or become apparent as the pregnancy progresses. The closer to the preterm birth, the more likely you are to have significant changes in the physiology of the woman that is observed in the blood."
The test may cost $150 to $250, Graves said. It would require
several years to go through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
approval process. BYU and the University of Utah have a patent on
the test and have licensed it.
Even if the test is found to indicate that a birth will be
premature, physicians would have limited options. One option is to
provide drugs that dampen the immune system so the baby's lungs
develop faster, said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist
at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Wu said the study results are promising, but more research is
needed to confirm that the test is reliable. "If you are going to
be alarming a patient by saying that she may have premature
delivery, you want to make sure that's truly the case."
The study appears in the May issue of the
American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
For more about
premature birth, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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