New blood test developed by Utah company may help predict premature births

Posted at 10:10 PM, May 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-22 00:10:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah company has developed groundbreaking technology that could help predict premature births.

Sera Prognostics announced they are this year's Utah Innovation Award winner in the biotech category.

“We set out to find a protein bio-marker test, basically drawing blood from a woman as early as 19 weeks in pregnancy, a normal pregnancy is 40 [weeks],” said Greg Critchfield, CEO of Sera Prognostics.

Critchfield said over the past five years, the company has been working to find patterns with a woman's proteins in order to help predict the risk of delivering too soon.

“If she has a high risk, interventions are possible,” Critchfield said. “The goal is to keep the baby in utero longer, have it develop more fully, and have it be born healthier so everyone wins.”

Critchfield says all processes of life are carried out by proteins in some way.

“And so by measuring proteins, they are either over-expressed in blood or under-expressed,” Critchfield said. “And by getting patterns of them, we’re able to make predictions about events that happen, that happen much, much later."

Any baby born 37 weeks or earlier is considered premature. A 2015 annual report by the March of Dimes shows Salt Lake City earned a 9.6 percent pre-term birth rate, which is a “C” grade. The state overall earned 9.1 percent, which is a “B” grade.

Provo was the only city to get an "A", at 7.7 percent.

“What our test does, is it allows us to identify many more women, who are in fact, at high risk,” Critchfield said.

Doctors say once they know the woman is at high risk, there are ways to stretch out the pregnancy—saving families from complications early on.

“Early babies, premature babies, cost a ton of money for the health system,” Critchfield said.

But with this new blood test, the company says doctors will have the opportunity to give patients more quality care.

“It allows doctors to know who they need to pay attention to earlier in pregnancy, and the goal is to have babies born healthier, worldwide,” Critchfield said.

If you have a history of premature births in your family, or you've had a previous pregnancy where you delivered too soon, you are considered to be high-risk for a premature birth.

The new blood test is now commercially available. Those interested in the test should consult their physician.