Preterm birth by Filipino women linked to genetic mutational change

by Tina M Shelton
Mānoa: Preterm birth by Filipino women linked to genetic mutational change
Dr. Bryant-Greenwood in her lab at Kaka`ako

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa have uncovered a genetic explanation for why Filipino women in the state have a higher chance of delivering their babies before full term.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of in the United States. Being born too early is not just detrimental to a baby's survival outside of the . It can also lead to health complications in the child including , , , neurological and . It is also now known that it makes them more prone to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as adults.

Nearly 12% (11.7%) of women of Filipino descent in Hawai`i deliver their babies early compared to either white (7.2%) or other Asian populations (9.0%) in the state. The normal length of pregnancy is 40 weeks and the study focused on late (34 weeks to 36 weeks and six days).

The new research featured as the cover story in September's American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found an association between a genetic variant in the DNA of Filipino women and higher levels of a hormone that increases the chances of preterm birth.

The article, "Genetic associations of relaxin: preterm birth and premature rupture of fetal membranes" was written by Frederico Rocha, MD; Thomas Slavin, MD; Dongmei Li, PhD; Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD and Gillian Bryant-Greenwood, PhD.

Researchers selected maternal blood, DNA, and tissue from the UH Biospecimen Repository. The repository contains a collection of samples from over 8,000 pregnant women in Hawai`i who volunteered over the last several years to assist in health research. Ninety-four patients met the inclusion criteria and could trace back their Filipino ancestry to all four of their grandparents.

The scientific team found a small genetic mutational change in the women's DNA was linked to the higher levels of the protein relaxin in the uterine cells.

"We were excited because there are very few studies which link genetics right the way through to the levels of a protein being expressed in the cells of interest," said Dr. Bryant-Greenwood from the JABSOM Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health. "Often people look at the genetics but they don't look at the effects of the genetics on the protein being produced in an actual cell type and that's why this is important."

"It's the protein which does the job," Dr. Bryant-Greenwood said.

What makes this development even more fascinating is that a previous study in Denmark showed that Danish women also carried this small change in their DNA, making them susceptible to preterm birth. This connection between the study on preterm birth in Danish women and Filipino women suggests that this is important in more than one population in the world.

Dr. Bryant-Greenwood hopes that with this new information, pregnant Filipino patients could potentially be offered a test to show if they were at high risk. In any event, she said, Filipino moms-to-be should be more carefully monitored.

More information: "Genetic associations of relaxin: preterm birth and premature rupture of fetal membranes." Frederico G. Rocha, Thomas P. Slavin, Dongmei Li, Maarit I. Tiirikainen, Gillian D. Bryant-Greenwood. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology - September 2013 (Vol. 209, Issue 3, Pages 258.e1-258.e8, DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2013.05.020)

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Jan 14, 2014
This is very fascinating! My daughter Joy was born at 23 weeks last year. Due to modern medicine and prayers she is doing great today. I hemorrhaged at 17 weeks for the first of 4 times because of 100% placenta previa, which turned into placenta accreta (which I believe was caused by 3 prior c-sections). After she came home from 121 days in the NICU, I wrote a memoir called "From Hope To Joy" about my life-threatening
 pregnancy and my daughter's 4 months in the NICU (with my 3 young sons at 
home), which is now available on both the Amazon and Barnes&Noble websites. My mission is to provide hope to women struggling with
 high-risk pregnancies, encourage expectant mothers to educate themselves before 
electing cesarean deliveries, provide families of premature babies a realistic 
look at what lies ahead in their NICU journey, and show that miracles can 
happen, and hope can turn into joy.
 Please see my website a or

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