Australian researchers are developing a world-first test that will predict when a woman will go into labour, from as early as 24 weeks pregnant.
The bedside swab will be able to tell doctors if a woman is at risk of giving birth prematurely within days or even weeks.
The University of Melbourne is working with hospitals, including Victoria’s Royal Women’s and the Mercy Hospital for Women, to create a test that has the potential to save babies’ lives.
Scientists are looking to pinpoint the unique chemical changes that occur in cervicovaginal fluid before a woman goes into early labour. These biomarkers have been studied by obstetrician Dr Megan Di Quinzio and senior scientist Doctor Harry Georgiou for the past 10 years.
They’ve now managed to narrow it down to 10 biomarkers. “The site where these swabs were taken is very close to where the cervix ripens, matures, remodels and where the membranes thin and rupture before birth, so it’s right at the site of activity. That is where will find the answer.” Dr Di Quinzio said.
It’s likely the test will be a simple, affordable and painless vaginal swab, done by a doctor or nurse. The sample of the cervical fluid would then be tested for the biomarkers.
“Our aim is to predict labour within seven to 14 days. Ideally, I would love to see this as a routine test taken during the highest risk stage of pregnancy, between 24 and 28 weeks.”
This potentially life-saving test could be undertaken several times during pregnancy to help doctors discover if a woman is at risk of going into early labour.
“There are women who come in contracting early who have been perfectly well throughout their pregnancy. They want to know why has this happened and the truth is often, we just don’t know why,” Dr Di Quinzio said.
“Pre-term birth doesn’t discriminate. It is the greatest burden is in the third world, where access to antenatal care is limited, but it can happen to anyone.”
In Australia, one in 10 births are premature, and premature birth accounts for 85 per cent of early infant deaths across the globe.
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