Simple blood test could determine preterm birth rate in low-resource countries

Simple blood test could determine preterm birth rate in low-resource countries
Study funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows blood test and mathematical model can accurately identify preterm babies without ultrasound. Photo shows researchers Dr. Kumanan Wilson and Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty. Credit: CHEO

Preterm birth is a leading cause of death among children under the age of five, with low resource countries facing the greatest challenge. But before solutions can be tested, researchers first need to be able to accurately measure the problem at a population level. This has been particularly difficult in countries where pregnant women don't have routine access to ultrasound technology to determine gestational age.

New research published in eLife shows that a developed in Canada could help. The model, developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, relies on simple blood tests done soon after birth, as well as and sex.

"We're using metabolic fingerprints—unique patterns in specific molecules found in the blood—to help estimate gestational age," said senior author Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine specialist and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. "This could be crucial to global efforts to reduce and improve newborn health."

Dr. Wilson developed the model together with Dr. Steven Hawken, a scientist and big data expert at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. After validating the model using Canadian data, they teamed up with researchers from Bangladesh to try it in another setting.

The team enrolled more than 1,000 in the study from Matlab, a research field station of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. The women received regular ultrasounds as a gold standard reference for gestational age. Soon after birth, a few drops of newborn blood were collected from either a heel prick or the . The blood samples were sent to Newborn Screening Ontario in Ottawa, Canada for testing and the data was analyzed at The Ottawa Hospital.

With the heel prick blood samples, the mathematical model could accurately estimate gestational age to within two weeks of the ultrasound-validated age 94 percent of the time. Using the cord , the model was accurate to within two weeks 90 percent of the time.

The team is now partnering with Stanford University to implement their test in several other countries. They are also exploring the use of artificial intelligence to make it even better.


Explore further

Could a 'metabolic fingerprint' identify premature babies in developing countries?

More information: Malia SQ Murphy et al, External validation of postnatal gestational age estimation using newborn metabolic profiles in Matlab, Bangladesh, eLife (2019). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.42627
Journal information: eLife

Provided by The Ottawa Hospital
Citation: Simple blood test could determine preterm birth rate in low-resource countries (2019, March 19) retrieved 16 November 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-03-simple-blood-preterm-birth-low-resource.html
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