MURRAY, Utah (News4Utah) — Researchers launch Utah’s largest and first of its kind pre-term birth study in hopes of preventing tragedies and premature deliveries.
Researchers are looking for 10,000 women to participate. Mothers-to-be will take a newly developed blood test to identify high-risk women and see if taking proactive intervention will reduce premature births.
Christina Merrill, of Sandy, was 25 weeks pregnant when she lost her first little girl 11 years ago.
“We are not doing a very good job at preventing pre-term birth,” said Dr. Sean Esplin.
Dr. Sean Esplin, a maternal fetal specialist at Intermountain Medical Center, says they now have a great opportunity to identify high-risk women as early as possible and determine which medical interventions are most effective in preventing pre-term births.
Pre-term birth is defined as a baby born before 37 weeks. It affects 15 million infants worldwide every year and causes one million deaths. Current methods identify fewer than half of the premature births.
“Out of 100 women that walk through my door, I know 10 of them are going to have a pre-term birth I just don’t know which 10 they are,” said Dr. Esplin.
Christina was lucky to participate in a previous study on a blood test created by local company Sera Prognostics after the loss of her baby. She does indeed carry the protein markers that put her at risk of a miscarriage.
“We validated the prediction worked. Now that you can make that prediction the question is, if you use the prediction, what is the impact on health? Can we improve the health of the babies?” asked Dr. Gregory Critchfield, Sera Prognostics CEO.
Dr. Esplin treated Christina’s high-risk pregnancy with medication. There are other ways doctors may use to intervene that involve supporting the cervix.
Christina’s two subsequent babies were still preemies but much healthier with a much longer gestational period.
“I know to treat her with aspirin and progesterone. I often thought, had I known she was at risk would those interventions have worked. This is a chance to test that,” said Dr. Esplin.
They are enrolling patients right now to take the same specialized blood test Christina took to determine the health of your placenta and if you show the protein markers.
Researchers are looking for women 18 years or older, who are pregnant between 19 to 20 weeks with only one baby and have never experienced a preterm birth before. All five Intermountain hospitals will be participating in the research.