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Blood Test for Certain Proteins Could Lead to Earlier Uterine Infection Diagnoses Among Pregnant Women, Fewer Preterm Births, Study Says

Kaisernetwork.org Daily Reproductive Health Report
July 29, 2004

Researchers have identified blood proteins that could lead to the development of a simple test that would allow doctors to diagnose and treat uterine infections early enough to prevent as many as 175,000 premature births each year in the United States, according to a study published in the July 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Wall Street Journal reports. Uterine infections are thought to cause at least 50% of all premature births that occur before 30 weeks gestation. Currently, doctors can use amniocentesis -- an invasive procedure in which amniotic fluid is drawn out of the uterus using a long needle -- to diagnose uterine infection during labor, but administering antibiotics to the pregnant woman at that point often fails to prevent premature delivery, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 7/28). Dr. Michael Gravett of Oregon Health & Science University and colleagues used data from a study involving rhesus monkeys and a study involving 33 pregnant women (Gravett et al., JAMA, 7/28). In the monkey study, researchers observed specific proteins, or biological markers, indicating uterine infection within 12 hours of injecting pregnant laboratory monkeys with infection-causing germs. Researchers then observed the same biomarkers in the 11 women studied who were in preterm labor as a result of asymptomatic uterine infections and who subsequently gave birth prematurely. However, the 11 women who were in preterm labor who did not have uterine infections and who delivered at or near term did not test positive for the proteins, according to the study (Tanner, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/27).

Next Steps, Reaction
Gravett said, "My hope is that we have laid the foundation for detecting reliable diagnostic markers of intrauterine infection in blood, without the need for invasive amniocentesis." Although some researchers said the study's findings are likely to be significant, they also said that more research needs to be done to determine the association between the proteins and intrauterine infection during pregnancy, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 7/28). The study was funded in part by ProteoGenix, a biotechnology company founded by Oregon Health & Science University and several of the researchers involved in the study. In a postscript to the study, the authors acknowledged that they have significant financial interest in the company, which plans to develop and market tests to diagnose uterine infection. However, an independent panel reviewed the study for objectivity, according to Reuters/Boston Globe (Reuters/Boston Globe, 7/28).

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