Having a miscarriage or a preterm birth can leave you blindsided, but what if you could determine your risk early on—and maybe even prevent these issues? Soon, this could be possible. A groundbreaking new blood test promises to determine a woman’s chance of miscarriage and premature birth with “high reliability.”
The test, carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, is also said to predict the onset of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication involving high blood pressure that can lead to premature birth and, in extreme cases, be life-threatening to both mother and fetus.
About 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of them in the first trimester. About five to 18 percent of babies are born preterm, while preeclampsia affects roughly two to eight percent of pregnant women.
What causes preterm labour? In addition to causing both heartbreak and trauma for families, “these complications pose a serious risk to both maternal and infant health, and cost billions annually in increased healthcare cost in the USA alone,” said the study’s San Francisco-based authors, pathologist Edward Winger and research associate Jane Reed, in an abstract. “Although our understanding of these pathologies is increasing, prevention remains a significant challenge in obstetrics.”
The preliminary, unpublished findings were presented at the annual congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) in San Antonio, Texas. The blood test looks at microRNA molecules in the placental bed that indicate problems with blood supply, which could cause complications. Along with other first-trimester screening methods such as the NIPT, this test could allow doctors to detect serious health problems in the mother or fetus early enough to manage them.
In trials, the tests predicted both miscarriage and late-onset pre-eclampsia with about 90 percent certainty and premature birth before 34 weeks with 98 percent accuracy.
The authors looked at 160 births in a series of four published studies. Although the findings could help doctors take steps to avoid premature birth, experts warn against reading too much into the findings due to the “small and preliminary” nature of the research.
While the tests need to be confirmed more widely, fertility specialists say the results are promising and pave the way for possible treatments for blood-related pregnancy complications.