Scientists have developed a blood test that is reportedly just as accurate as ultrasound, but is less expensive and can reliably predict a pregnant woman's due date. The test can also be used to predict if the pregnancy will end in a premature birth.
The research is still at a nascent stage and was based on data obtained from a small number of women. The study was led by Stephen Quake of Stanford University, who said that the test could provide a low-cost method of estimating a fetus' gestational age.
The test detected the variations in RNA in a pregnant woman's blood and estimated due dates within two weeks in nearly half the cases. It was as accurate as the current method of ultrasound and more accurate than guesses based on woman's last menstrual period.
A similar analysis of RNA was carried out on eight women who delivered prematurely and researchers were able to classify six of the pregnancies as preterm. If the study is carried at a larger level and the results are comparable to the smaller analysis then this test could replace ultrasound. This can become a tool to prevent unnecessary induction of labour and cesarean deliveries. This could help save the babies who would have died because they were born too early.
A New York Times report points out that 15 million babies are born prematurely in a year globally and this blood test can potentially save their lives.
"RNA is what's happening in the cells at any given moment", said Dr. Quake, co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, which funded the study along with others. "We had this idea that we could make a molecular clock to see how these things change over time and it should allow you to measure gestational age and see where things are in pregnancy."
Dr. Quake, who invented the first noninvasive prenatal blood test for Down syndrome, said that the team is planning to go for a trial with a larger population to collect more data for the research.
The current study is far from ready for use, but researchers say that the study looks promising.