New test to warn women about risk of premature childbirth
Women could find out whether they are at risk of a premature birth during their first three months of pregnancy using a simple urine test, a study has said.
Researchers found that testing for the presence of specific molecules in the urine of mothers to be can provide an early indication of whether a baby is likely to be born prematurely or to suffer poor growth in the womb. The test can be carried out as early as the first trimester, when pregnant women often go for their first ultrasound.
Identifying the risks early in pregnancy could help reduce complications and manage potential difficulties, although more work is needed before the findings can be used in clinical settings, according to the study published in BMC Medicine.
Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Crete analysed the metabolites, small molecules excreted in urine, of 438 pregnant women in Crete. They found that elevated urinary levels of the amino acid lysine were associated with spontaneous premature birth. In contrast, increased levels of an N-acetylated glycoprotein, a molecule consisting of a carbohydrate and a protein, tended to be found in women who had to be induced early.
Decreased levels of a third group of molecules, acetate, formate, tyrosine and trimethylamine, were associated with poor foetal development.
Women with lower levels of these also showed signs of an increased risk of diabetes, such as higher blood insulin.
Urine samples were collected early in pregnancy at the first ultrasound appointment, which is usually at the end of the first trimester or the start of the second.
Pre-term birth and poor foetal growth have been shown to increase the chance of developing metabolic and cardiovascular disorders later in life.
Dr Hector Keun, the lead researcher from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: "While we know that metabolism in the mother changes substantially during pregnancy to help supply the growing foetus with nutrients, we were surprised to see so early in pregnancy a link between metabolites that we could easily detect in a urine sample and low birth weight.
"Our findings imply that it could be possible to improve the identification of women at higher risk of delivering smaller babies or premature delivery using non-invasive metabolic profiling technology early in pregnancy."
He said there needs to be further research into whether changes in metabolites are induced by pregnancy or indicate an underlying risk factor. "We will also go on to test if exposure to these metabolites during pregnancy has a lasting impact on child development after birth," he added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)