Up to 18 percent of babies born worldwide arrive before they are full-term, defined as 37 weeks of gestation. About 1 million of those babies do not survive, and those who do can face developmental problems such as impaired vision or hearing, defects in the heart or lungs, or cognitive impairments. Currently there is no reliable way to predict whether a woman with a normal pregnancy will go into labor before 37 weeks. However, a study from MIT offers a new approach to evaluating this risk, by analyzing the properties of cervical mucus. The researchers found that cervical mucus from women who delivered their babies before 37 weeks was very different from that of women who delivered later. This type of analysis could offer an easy way to calculate the risk of early labor, potentially allowing doctors to try to intervene earlier to prevent preterm births. “Our prediction is that we might be able to identify risk for preterm birth ahead of time, before labor sets in,” says Katharina Ribbeck (photo), PhD, an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.
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