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A test to predict risk of premature birth

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Dr Joanna CookResearch funded by Action has made important steps towards developing a blood test that could be used in early pregnancy to identify women who are at high risk of going into labour too soon.

Research Training Fellow Dr Joanna Cook has been investigating the role of naturally occurring substances called microRNAs, which seem to be involved in controlling when a woman goes into labour. These can be detected in the blood and, importantly, their levels have been found to be different in women who go on to develop cervical weakness – a known cause of premature birth.

If diagnosed early enough cervical weakness can be treated and pregnancy prolonged. So a blood test used in early pregnancy would allow doctors to identify and help those women who are at risk.

Dr Cook says: “In our clinic we often see women who have already had very premature babies, but didn’t receive special monitoring in their first pregnancies because we had no way of knowing they were at risk of early delivery. I hope this work will translate into a more personalised approach for these women in the future.”

These promising results will now be tested in a larger group of women. If successful it is hoped that a commercially available test would be ready in around five years.