Test for bacteria could be key to predicting premature births, suggests research

on 14 September 2021

A study has found that premature birth could be predicted sooner in pregnancy by testing specific bacteria and chemicals in cervicovaginal fluid.

The study analysed 346 cervicovaginal fluid taken from women at 10-15 weeks pregnant, and then another sample was taken at 16-23 weeks. Researchers then grouped women by their typical communities of bacteria and biochemicals.

Researchers then analysed cervical length measurements (current standard NHS assessment for premature birth risk), then followed up to see who gave birth early.

The results of the study found that specific bacteria limits the risk of premature birth. A combination of metabolites and bacteria were linked to birth at or before 34 weeks, with seven metabolites being associated with birth at or before 37 weeks.

The links found were equally significant when mothers were tested in their first and second trimesters, therefore those at risk of premature birth could be identified earlier in pregnancy and benefit from medical or surgical treatments that are not possible in late stage pregnancy.

The study was led by researchers at King’s College London and jointly funded by Tommy’s and the Rosetree Trust, as well as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) through a doctoral fellowship awarded to Dr Natasha Hezelgrave. The Wellcome Trust also provided strategic support to another researcher in the team.

Tommy’s Chief Executive, Jane Brewin, said: “With 60,000 babies born prematurely each year in the UK, there’s a real and urgent need for better ways to predict and prevent preterm birth. This new study has not only uncovered warning signs that could be used to develop new tests, but also a possible treatment which could make pregnancy safer for the most vulnerable, so this new avenue of research has really exciting potential for clinical practice.”

The research ‘Cervicovaginal microbiota and metabolome predict preterm birth risk in an ethically diverse cohort’ was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Source: NIHR