A simple blood test that could predict which babies are at risk of stillbirth could be just three years away, following an Australian breakthrough.
Researchers have discovered the likely cause of most stillbirths is an ageing placenta, which causes a fall in the level of oxygen getting to the baby.
It’s hoped the discovery can lead to not only identifying which women are at higher risk of stillbirth, but how to prevent the babies’ deaths.
Hope for women around the world
In Australia about one in 150 pregnancies ends in stillbirth, and there are usually no answers to offer grieving couples.
The Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Professor Roger Smith told Mum’s Grapevine he hopes his research can be of some comfort to those who’ve been through stillbirth.
“A lot of mums who have experienced stillbirth feel very guilty about it, and they don’t need to. There wasn’t anything they could do about it, it’s the placenta getting old. It wasn’t their fault.”
Test to predict ageing placentas
The new research has pinpointed the likely cause of most stillbirths – the ageing of the placenta. Just like people age at different rates, it’s been discovered some placentas age more quickly than others.
An ageing placenta releases an enzyme called aldehyde oxidase, and it’s thought this could be used as a basis for creating a blood test to predict stillbirth.
“The placenta releases material into the mother’s blood and we haven’t proven it yet but what we want to test out is the idea that by sampling a mother’s blood we will be able to get a measuring of the ageing of the mother’s placenta.”
Professor Smith says he hopes a test that can predict stillbirth could be just three to five years away. This information could then be passed onto obstetricians who could deliver the baby safely.
And within ten years he hopes a drug could be developed to slow down the ageing of placentas, to help those babies not yet at a viable gestation.
“From understanding that it’s the ageing of the placenta that leads to stillbirth comes the possibility of diagnosing it early to prevent the death of the baby.”
If you need support after a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death, head to Sands Australia.