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Clues for predicting premature birth risk may be found in mother’s immune system, microbiome

| | November 18, 2019

For decades, researchers and clinicians have sought ways to predict and prevent preterm birth with little progress to show for it. “It’s extremely frustrating,” says neonatologist Sylvain Chemtob of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte-Justine in Montreal, who has worked in the field for 35 years. The best predictor of preterm labor is whether a woman has experienced it before.

[Researchers] are looking to the human immune system for clues. “The immune system is exquisitely sensitive to all sorts of environmental changes,” he says, including the mother’s nutrition and stress. The immune system could be the biological common denominator for the many known and suspected factors that contribute to preterm labor.

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In a sample of mostly African-American women, 90 had delivered full-term and 45 had delivered preterm. The women who delivered preterm tended to have a more diverse mix of microbes than those who delivered at term, the group reported in June in Nature Medicine. …  The researchers suggest that microbiome changes could be a useful predictor of preterm labor risk. But because people’s microbiomes vary with geography and diet, among other things, no one microbiome profile will be predictive for everyone.

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