Premature labour: blood test gives hope of screening

Pregnancy In the UK, about 8% of births are premature

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Scientists have developed a blood test that can predict whether women having early contractions will go on to give birth too soon.

About 5% of women with signs of early labour give birth within 10 days, but there is no reliable way to tell false from true labour.

The blood test predicted premature birth in 70% of cases in a study at a hospital in Australia.

Premature birth is the main cause of death for newborns in the West.

Early labour can happen in any pregnancy, when contractions start before 37 weeks.

Currently, a woman having contractions too soon has no reliable way of knowing whether she will give birth early or if her contractions will stop.

Some women are offered a test based on a vaginal swab, but this has a high rate of false positives.

The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found the new blood test was able to distinguish between true and false labour in 70% of 150 pregnant women in a study at a hospital in Australia.

Prof Stephen Lye, from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Canada, said the test was based on screening for genetic signatures linked with going into labour.

"The data indicates that markers in the blood of women in threatened pre-term labour are able to indicate whether those women will deliver," he said.

"This will have beneficial effects for the mother, the baby and the healthcare system."

The blood test would be tried out at a hospital in Toronto and might be available more widely within five years, he added.

The research was carried out in collaboration with the School of Women's and Infants' Health - the University of Western Australia.

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