Boston, Sep 6 (PTI) Scientists have developed a simple test of cervical mucus that can predict whether a pregnant women will go into labour too early, potentially allowing doctors to try to intervene earlier to prevent preterm births.

Up to 18 per cent of babies born worldwide arrive before they are full-term, defined as 37 weeks of gestation.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US offer a new approach to evaluating the risk, by analysing the properties of cervical mucus.

The team found that cervical mucus from women who delivered their babies before 37 weeks was very different from that of women who delivered later.

Previous studies show that cervical mucus from pregnant women at high risk of early labour was mechanically weaker and more elastic than that of low-risk pregnant women.

Researchers investigated the mucus’s permeability to small particles.

Mucus is formed from polymers known as mucins, and the composition and arrangement of these mucins determine how porous the gel is, they said.

The team collected samples from two groups of patients.

The low-risk group included pregnant women who came in to their doctors’ offices for routine visits around 30 weeks and ended up giving birth after 37 weeks.

The high-risk group included women who went into labour early, between 24 and 34 weeks. Doctors were able to halt labour in these women, and the samples were taken after they were stabilised. They all ended up giving birth before 37 weeks.

Researchers found a significant differences in mucus permeability and adhesiveness: The peptides were able to pass through samples from high-risk women much more easily.

The findings suggests that cervical mucus from women at high risk for early labour, for reasons not yet known, may be more susceptible to invasion by potentially harmful bacteria and microbes, making it more likely that those women will experience an infection that leads to preterm birth.

This type of analysis could offer an easy way to calculate the risk of early labour, 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 labour sets in,” said Katharina Ribbeck, an associate professor at MIT.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.