Doctors could soon be able to predict the unpredictable

Posted at 8:08 AM, Jun 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-22 11:12:52-04

Trying to predict the unpredictable - that's the goal of a new test in the works that could predict if a baby will be born prematurely But just how helpful would this test be?

All it would take is some blood from an expectant mother, and doctors may be able to tell if her baby will be born prematurely.

Doctors are still a long way from knowing just how useful it will be, but it's giving some moms hope, including Pam Frasco, the mother of two boys born prematurely. 

“It was crazy, it was scary," she said when recalling every moment her sons spent in the hospital.

They were born two years apart, but both boys were several weeks premature and came with little to no warning.

“To just be thrown into parenthood, where you have to put on a visitor’s badge to visit your baby, is just terrifying,” Frasco said.

But a new blood test may help women like Frasco be better prepared.

“I think it's really exciting,” she said.

The test developed and ran by scientists at Stanford University, measured the activity of maternal, placental and fetal genes by assessing maternal blood levels of cell-free RNA, tiny bits of the messenger molecule that carry the body’s genetic instructions to it’s protein-making factories. They used blood samples from women during pregnancy to identify which genes gave reliable signals about gestational age and prematurity risk.

“If we could identify a way to detect a group that that are greater, or at risk we could actually target them better for treatment,” said Dr. Edward Chin, Division Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine department at MetroHealth.
While the blood test is innovative, Doctor Edward Chin said doctors and moms would have to use some discretion.

"There are a lot of false positives,” he said.

And those false positives, Dr. Chin warns, could lead women to think there's a problem, when there isn't one.

“So those types of tests create anxiety, similarly this test has the potential to do that,” he said.

One main reason he said we’re still several years away from the test being available to general public.

“It’s information that still needs to be replicated in other populations,” Dr. Chin said.

But that’s not stopping Frasco from helping other moms.

“This has been building for several years, we just want to do more,” she said.

She’s doing more with her non-profit Project Preemie, a platform for moms to share their stories online through a special blog and receive care packages while they’re in the hospital with their baby.

“We’re calling this our passion project,” she said.