Low-cost methods of predicting premature births in rural communities

Our researchers are helping to test a cheap, easy-to-use method to predict the risk of premature birth in areas lacking healthcare resources. The hope is that this test will help to prevent deaths and disability in 3.6 million babies every year.
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    Dr Rachel Tribe, Jenny Carter, Professor Andrew Shennan, Professor Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed, collaborators in India

This project took place at our London centre which operated between 1995 and 2021.

Why do we need this research?

This project took place at our London centre which operated between 1995 and 2021. 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 of these babies will die, and those that survive may be disabled. The problem is particularly severe in rural communities where access to healthcare is low, meaning that women can’t get the help they need. We cannot allow this to continue.

What’s happening in this project?

Tommy’s researchers are helping to test a cheap, easy-to-use method to tell 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 getting the care they need.

Our researchers recruited 2,000 pregnant women to take part in the trial, called PROMISES. All these women had an ultrasound scan to check how far along the baby is. The women donated a sample of saliva between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, which were all sent to a laboratory to check the level of progesterone. The women were then monitored for the rest of their pregnancy to see when they give birth, and if there were any other complications. Our researchers are now analysing all the data from the study and will release the results soon.

What difference will this project make?

If the saliva test is successful, this could be a life-changing innovation for many women. The test is simple, non-invasive, and doesn’t need a skilled professional to carry it out. 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 a healthy start in life. 

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.