Noninvasive blood tests that provide information about fetal development and gestational age could potentially improve prenatal care. Ultrasound, the current gold standard, is not always affordable in low-resource settings and does not predict spontaneous preterm birth, a leading cause of infant death. In a pilot study of 31 healthy pregnant women, we found that measurement of nine cell-free RNA (cfRNA) transcripts in maternal blood predicted gestational age with comparable accuracy to ultrasound but at substantially lower cost. In a related study of 38 women (25 full-term and 13 preterm deliveries), all at elevated risk of delivering preterm, we identified seven cfRNA transcripts that accurately classified women who delivered preterm up to 2 months in advance of labor. These tests hold promise for prenatal care in both the developed and developing worlds, although they require validation in larger, blinded clinical trials.
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