Researchers Develop New Tools to Predict Premature Birth, Neonatal Morbidity

Jan 14, 2021

PHOENIX — Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine ­– Phoenix and Indiana University School of Medicine have developed a new diagnostic tool to better predict the likelihood of premature birth and neonatal morbidity in the early stages of pregnancy, which may increase care and outcomes for both baby and mother.

Premature birth affects 1 out of 10 women in the United States and can lead to multiple complications in newborns. Until now, there were limited tools available to predict preterm birth and no tools to predict neonatal morbidity.

Premature birth affects one out of 10 women in the United States and can lead to multiple complications in newborns. Early identification of women who are at high risk of preterm delivery can increase care and outcomes for both baby and mother.“Preterm delivery is an area of study that has tremendous implications for the health of the newborn. This is an exciting opportunity to empower women to understand risks to their pregnancy and be proactive about their care choices,” said maternal-fetal specialist Avinash Patil, MD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. “This science will be the basis of a tool to help shape the care that women receive to improve pregnancy outcomes.”

The study, led by Dr. Patil and published in PLOS ONE, examined levels of progesterone metabolites in conjunction with patient demographic and obstetric history. The combination of these factors allowed researchers to predict, with a high degree of certainty, women who were more likely to have a very preterm birth. Very preterm birth – babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy – often results in neonatal morbidity and mortality.

The investigation also identified which pregnancies would result in newborns with multiple complications, as premature birth is associated with substantial complications for the newborn. The study revealed a high correlation between at-risk pregnancies and newborns spending up to seven weeks longer in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) than the low-risk group. 

“This is really an attempt to better understand what might happen to the newborn. When I see pregnant women, their concern is, ‘Will my child be able to come home with me or will my child need to stay in the NICU?’” said Dr. Patil, founder and CEO of Nixxi, a company focused on improving women’s health and pregnancy outcomes.

The study used plasma samples collected as part of the Building Blocks of Pregnancy Biobank at the Indiana University School of Medicine. For more than 11 years, the biobank has collected samples from pregnant patients in all trimesters, as well as during labor and delivery.

“These discoveries about different progesterone metabolites and their roles in prediction and potentially prevention of spontaneous preterm birth are very exciting,” said co-author David Haas, MD, MS, vice chair of research for IU School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “While more research is needed, these findings are a significant step in helping physicians provide multidisciplinary, personalized care to improve perinatal outcomes for their patients.”

Other participating institutions include Indiana University School of Medicine, Valley Perinatal Services, Wake Forest University and Gaikwad Steroidomics Laboratory.

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NOTE: Photos available by request.

About the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated 500 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and 1,800 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy. For more information, please visit (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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