July 22, 2009

Saliva Test May Warn Expectant Mothers Of Premature Birth

Experts believe a simple saliva test could help spot which expectant mothers are likely to go into premature labor, BBC News reported.

New mothers going into labor very early (before 34 weeks gestation) had abnormally low progesterone levels in their saliva, according to UK researchers.

When this can be identified early, it would enable these women to be given steroids, which help in the development of the baby's lungs, preventing disability and death.

Over 50,000 babies a year in the UK are born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, and the condition is still not well understood, researchers wrote in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The hormone progesterone likely plays a part in premature births and studies are currently underway to test whether giving women more of this hormone during pregnancy cuts their risk of a preterm birth.

Monitoring progesterone levels in saliva could provide a cheap and convenient early marker for the condition, according to the latest work by a team of researchers at University College London and King's College London.

A study among 92 women deemed to be at increased risk of having a preterm birth found that those who delivered spontaneously before 34 weeks had much lower salivary levels of progesterone than those giving birth at term, after 37 weeks.

The study showed that this measurable difference in progesterone was apparent at all gestational ages after 24 weeks.

While progesterone has anti-inflammatory properties, suggesting low levels of the hormone in the maternal body might contribute to bacterial infection -- a recognized cause of preterm birth -- it is still unclear how the hormone influences when labor begins.

Now a much larger study is in preparation to validate these preliminary findings, said lead author Professor Lucilla Poston, from the Maternal and Fetal Research Unit at King's College London.

She said that since saliva is easy to collect, there is no need for a needle or a blood sample.

"It would be wonderful if in the future we only had to ask a pregnant woman to produce a small sample of saliva to know whether or not she was at risk of very early premature birth," she said.

The results of the initial study have shown promise and experts in the field are hopeful for further research.

"We hope these findings will also have an impact on the development of preventative measures for preterm births," said Jane Brewin of Tommy's, the charity backing the study.

The development of a reliable test for premature birth is vital in ensuring our most vulnerable babies have the best possible outcomes, according to Andy Cole of Bliss, the premature baby charity.

"We welcome any increase in our understanding of what causes premature birth that may ultimately help save babies' lives," said Yolande Harley from the charity Action Medical Research.


On The Net:


King's College London

University College London

British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology


Action Medical Research