• By Sara Tiner

Science Saturday: Link between preterm labor, fetal DNA supported by cell culture research

March 12, 2022
a pregnant woman undergoing an ultrasound examination by a medical professional, both wearing masks

If the average TV show is to be believed, going into labor is easy to predict. It will happen to any character who is pregnant at the worst or most inconvenient time.

In in real life, how labor begins is a mystery — and not necessarily a good one. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are called "preterm" and have a higher risk of death or persistent health problems than babies born at term. Preterm birth affects one in 10 infants born in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This gap in the knowledge of what causes labor to begin has devastating consequences," says Elizabeth Ann Enninga, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic immunologist. "If we don't know what initiates labor, we can’t stop it when it starts too soon."

Researchers think the mother's immune system is key because it has been implicated in other aspects of the labor process. Dr. Enninga and her team started with the interaction between the fetus and the mother's body. A fetus’ placenta releases DNA during pregnancy, which begins circulating in the mother's bloodstream. This cell-free fetal DNA is collected early in pregnancy to screen for genetic abnormalities and sex.

Read the rest of the article on the Discovery's Edge blog.

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