Noninvasive blood tests for fetal development predict gestational age and preterm delivery

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Toward more predictable birthdays

Low-cost methods for monitoring fetal development could improve prenatal care, especially in low-resource settings. By measuring the levels of certain placental RNA transcripts in maternal blood, Ngo et al. developed two noninvasive blood tests that provide a window into the progression of individual pregnancies. In a small proof-of-concept study, the first blood test predicted fetal age and delivery date with an accuracy comparable to that of ultrasound. The second blood test, also examined in a small pilot study, discriminated women at risk of preterm delivery from those who delivered at full term. The next step will be to assess the reliability of the tests in large, blinded clinical trials.

Science, this issue p. 1133


Noninvasive blood tests that provide information about fetal development and gestational age could potentially improve prenatal care. Ultrasound, the current gold standard, is not always affordable in low-resource settings and does not predict spontaneous preterm birth, a leading cause of infant death. In a pilot study of 31 healthy pregnant women, we found that measurement of nine cell-free RNA (cfRNA) transcripts in maternal blood predicted gestational age with comparable accuracy to ultrasound but at substantially lower cost. In a related study of 38 women (25 full-term and 13 preterm deliveries), all at elevated risk of delivering preterm, we identified seven cfRNA transcripts that accurately classified women who delivered preterm up to 2 months in advance of labor. These tests hold promise for prenatal care in both the developed and developing worlds, although they require validation in larger, blinded clinical trials.

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Source: Science