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New Swab Test Could Potentially Alert About Premature Births, Reckons New Study

A swab test could soon potentially predict the preterm birth of babies using a signature found in the cheek cells of the mother and father of the infant. The test could be instrumental in preventing premature births and the many health impacts of it by altering the need for early intervention measures.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers from the Washington State University, documented more than 100 epigenetic biomarkers in mothers of preterm babies that were different from mothers of babies carried for the full term of the pregnancy, reported Science Daily.

While the findings showed fewer biomarkers distinctions in the case of fathers, there were enough to indicate a paternal role in the cases of preterm birth.

Preterm is defined as babies who are born alive before the completion of the 37th week of pregnancy.

Epigenetics are molecular factors and processes around the DNA that determine the behavioural pattern of a particular gene. Even the modification in epigenetics caused by external factors like toxicant exposure, poor nutrition and alcohol use can be inherited by the next generation, independent of the DNA sequence.

Michael Skinner, the lead author of the study and a professor in Washington State University’s School of Biological Sciences, said that signature was present in every sample that was analyzed in the study, and this could be used as a base of developing a very useful test to predict preterm birth. “This is likely to lead eventually to a very useful test. We used buccal cells, which are collected by a cheek swab. It’s very non-invasive and easy to do,” he said.

For the study, the researchers collected cheek swabs from two groups of mother-father-infant triads soon after the babies were born. While one group had 19 triads where babies were born premature, the other group of 21 triads had babies that were carried for the full term of pregnancy.

The epigenetic analysis of the samples revealed signatures in the mothers, fathers and female preterm babies, but none in the male preterm infants. Findings show that preterm female babies carried more than 100 of these biomarkers from their parents, indicating the propensity to have a preterm baby may be passed down.

The transgenerational capacity of the chances of preterm pregnancy is also supported by the fact that the signature was found in cheek cells. Skinner argued that if an epigenetic modification is present in both sperm and ovum, the resulting baby will have that modification present in every cell of their body including the cheek cell

The findings are only in the proof of concept stage of the study and more details could come up if and when the study is performed on a larger sample base.

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