Low-cost methods of predicting premature births in rural communities

Dr Rachel Tribe, Jenny Carter, Professor Andrew Shennan, Professor Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed, collaborators in India

Tommy’s is helping to test cheap, easy-to-use ways of predicting the risk of premature birth in areas lacking healthcare resources.

In India, 3.6 million pregnancies end in premature birth every year. This is almost a quarter of all premature births in the world. Many babies die, and those that survive may be disabled.

This cannot continue.

Tommy’s is helping to test a cheap, easy-to-use way of telling how likely a woman is to give birth prematurely. The test measures the amount of progesterone, a hormone that helps maintain pregnancy, in samples of saliva from pregnant women. Early evidence from researchers in India, the UK and Egypt shows that this is a promising way of predicting premature birth.

Before introducing the test more widely, we need to see how well it works in large groups of women in rural communities, where access to healthcare is low. At the moment, there are no routine treatments from preterm birth in these communities: women at risk aren’t being helped in the way they need.

The trial aims to study 2,000 pregnant women. To check how far along the baby is, they will be given an ultrasound scan. Researchers will then take one sample of saliva from women between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, which will be sent to a laboratory to check the mother’s level of progesterone. All women will be monitored for the rest of their pregnancy to see when they give birth, and if there are any other complications.

If the test is successful, this could be a life-changing innovation for many women. The test is non-invasive, and doesn’t need a skilled professional to use it properly. Women at risk of premature birth could be identified early, and given the care and support they need to give their baby the best chance of health. 

In February 2017, lead researcher Dr Rachel Tribe visited the study team in India. She met with key medical staff in the rural villages of Satna and Panna where the study is taking place. 

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This study is partly taking place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the Department of Biotechnology (India), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (India), USAID 

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