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Predicting premature births

Medical professionals may have a new tool for identifying mothers who are at risk for delivering preterm. Early delivery is a significant threat to the health of an infant. Roughly three-quarters of infant deaths are attributable to preterm delivery. The ability to predict and take steps to alleviate these and other delivery complications could improve the prospects for countless families every year.

A blood test developed by U.S. researchers may be able to determine which mothers are at risk for early delivery. The test screens for proteins in the blood which have been identified as having a relationship to high incidence of premature birth. In a study conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, the blood test was able to identify preterm births with more than 80 percent accuracy.

Two screening tests currently exist to predict preterm labor. One examines the length of a woman's cervix to determine if it is changing too early. The other looks at fetal fibronectin proteins in the secretions of the cervix or vagina. This test is generally used in connection with early contractions or other identifiable signs of preterm delivery.

The new test, administered during the second trimester, offers a simpler method of identifying at-risk mothers. While the test is not yet widely available, researchers are working to prepare it for trial in 2011 and general release by 2012. If all goes as planned, the test could improve infant health and protect families from the dangers of premature birth.

Source: The Independent "New blood test could predict premature birth risk," 21 April 2011

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