Blood Tests Could Soon Predict Premature Births

Bioengineers at Stanford have developed a blood test that can detect with 80% accuracy who will deliver early

The tiniest of tiny, preemies, weighing in at 3, 2, even 1 pound are being born, surviving and thriving.

The youngest baby to survive was born at just 21 weeks. Baby James is now in his mid-20s and perfectly healthy.

Any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature. Right now, there's no telling which moms will deliver early and which ones will go the full 40 weeks. But soon, a simple blood test may be able to pinpoint a due date and save little lives.

You could say Haven and his mom are both heroes.

"I tell people this is like a war zone, only this time it's not my life on the line, it's my little innocent child's," said Haven's mother Amanda Smith.

Smith, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and NATO Medal of Honor recipient, gave birth to Haven 100 days early -- and he weighed just nine-tenths of a pound.

"It's about the size of coke can," Smith said.

Haven is one of 450,000 babies in the U.S. born prematurely each year. For two-thirds of those deliveries, no one knows why.

"When people think about what tools an obstetrician has right now to look at a pregnancy, it's ultrasound and that's it," said Mira Moufarrej, a bioengineering PhD student at Stanford University.

Now, bioengineers at Stanford have developed a blood test that can detect with 80% accuracy who will deliver early. Something that ultrasound cannot do.

"It tells you more about what's going on in the process of building a baby and what might go wrong," Moufarrej said.

The test looks at RNA molecules found in the mother's blood.

"Looking at those seven types of RNA molecules, they're higher in women who deliver preterm than full-term," Moufarrej said.

The team hopes doctors will then be able to start treatments that will delay delivery. Haven spent the first 241 days of his life in the hospital, has had seven surgeries since birth, he's on oxygen and takes 18 syringes of medication daily. But as his mom says, he's a fighter.

"I get to watch you stand up, smile, and give people hope," Smith said to Haven.

In low-resource settings, a test to predict time to delivery has tremendous potential to impact women's health particularly for disadvantaged women with limited access to hospitals. Because a blood test is cheap and easy to use, it has the potential to complement ultrasound and expand access to good prenatal care. Amanda is documenting little Haven's journey. You can follow them both on Facebook.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Field Producer; Evan Boarders, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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