Researchers discover biomarker indicating premature birth


Premature birth, when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, affects 1 in 10 infants born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, Washington State University researchers say they have found a biomarker in the cheek cells of mothers and fathers of preemies that may help prevent premature births.

The research, published in Scientific reports​, showed how a simple cheek swab could lead to preventative measures to reduce the incidence of preterm birth.

Study details

The scientists used mouth swab cells collected from two groups of mother-father-infant triads shortly after birth. In one group of 19 triads, the infants were born premature and in another group of 21 triads, the babies were carried to term. Epigenetic analysis found the signature in mothers, fathers, and female premature babies, but they did not find any in male premature babies. While fathers had fewer biomarkers, they were still sufficient to indicate probable preterm birth. Overall, researchers have documented over 100 epigenetic biomarkers.

“The study shows that an epigenetic biomarker of preterm birth (PTB) can be developed and used to assess a mother’s susceptibility to having PTB. Although extensive trials are needed to optimize the current data, this shows that such an assay can be developed. This will enable clinical treatment for susceptible patients and reduce the health impacts of PTB on babies,” eexplained lead author Michael Skinner, Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University.

“One of the first”

While a number of potential biomarkers for preterm birth have been identified in the past, Skinner explained that previous studies of genetic mutations or altered protein expression have been identified but are useful in less than 10% of births. premature and do not work well as a biomarker of susceptibility. , and are only associated with premature births when they actually occur.

“Thus, no effective susceptibility biomarker currently exists and epigenetic testing using non-invasively collected buccal cells is one of the first,”he noted.

Skinner also said NutraIngredients-USA​that he was surprised that a buccal cell could be used, which is related to the fact that epigenetic inheritance and the impacts of early exposure on epigenetics will be part of the etiology of the disease. He was also surprised that the father also had a signature, suggesting a paternal impact on PTB that has not been established at the molecular level.

“The signature we found was present in all the parents we analyzed,”said lead author Michael Skinner, a professor at Washington State University’s School of Biological Sciences. “This will probably eventually lead to a very useful test. We used buccal cells, which are collected by a buccal swab. It’s very non-invasive and easy to do.

More research, funding needed

The authors concluded that this research provides “proof of concept” that DNA methylation analysis of parental buccal swabs can be used to potentially predict preterm birth, adding that the accuracy and predictive ability of the biomarker need to be improved with future clinical trials. Such a preterm birth risk or susceptibility biomarker would allow for better interventions to prevent preterm birth through timely administration of prenatal steroids, magnesium sulfate, and optimal delivery procedures.

Skinner told us that an expanded clinical trial with hundreds of patients is now needed to optimize for use in the first trimester to enable its transition to clinical use. “We are ready to do this, but we need funding, which is not easy to obtain.”

What this means for the future of personalized health

“There are a number of clinical management protocols to help delay and prevent the onset of PTB, but today, without knowing which patients are susceptible, they cannot be used well. The PTB biomarker will allow early pregnancy to make the assessment so that these preventative medicine approaches can be used,”Skinner said.

He added that he suspects that similar types of epigenetic biomarkers could be developed for many pathologies, enabling personalized health and preventive medicine to be realized in the future.

Source:Scientific reports

March 1, 2022​

“Epigenetic biomarkers of oral cells of preterm birth to facilitate preventive medicine”

Authors: M. Skinner, et al.


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