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Researchers explore genetic link to preterm birth risk

One challenge for medical professionals is identifying pregnant women who may be at higher risk for preterm birth. If women who may be at higher risk can be identified, proactive measure can be taken to monitor and provide treatment alternatives in order to increase the chances that the pregnancy will be carried to full term or to make a premature birth as safe as possible for both the mother and baby.

While medical history, environmental and other factors are known to increase the risk of a premature birth, researches are now making progress to identify genetic factors which can contribute to that risk as well. A newly published study discusses some the findings from this research and highlights how it will help to develop an effective genetic test in the future.

The researchers from Vanderbilt University, Washington University and the University of Helsinki have identified the gene that they now believe is linked to an increased risk of premature birth. The researchers worked under the assumption that there was an evolutionary development which resulted in controlling the time of birth to allow for humans, with relatively smaller birth canals to successfully give birth.

By identifying a pool of genes that had adapted uniquely in humans they were able to create a list of genes which could potentially be the ones that came into play in increasing the risk of premature birth. Next they compared the signature of those genes in woman who had given birth prematurely to those who carried child for the full term. The result was to identify a single gene that interacts with hormone receptors in the ovaries as a playing a central role in increasing the risk of preterm birth.

Scientists now hope to use this information to develop a genetic test to accurately determine a women's genetic predisposition for preterm birth. Hopefully this research will soon help ensure that more babies are born healthy.

Source: BBC "Premature birth gene 'discovered'" April 14, 2011

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