News ID: 199861
Published: 0845 GMT September 03, 2017

Scientists hope immune system changes will predict preterm births

Scientists hope immune system changes will predict preterm births

By learning more about the immune system changes that occur during pregnancy, scientists hope they can someday predict if babies will be born prematurely.

Quoting study senior author Dr. Brice Gaudilliere, an assistant professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, UPI reported," Pregnancy is a unique immunological state.

“We found that the timing of immune system changes follows a precise and predictable pattern in normal pregnancy.

“If scientists can identify immune-system changes predicting premature birth, they say they might eventually develop a blood test to detect it.

"Ultimately, we want to be able to ask, 'Does your immune clock of pregnancy run too slow or too fast’?"

Nearly 10 percent of US infants are born three or more weeks early. Currently, doctors have no reliable way to predict which babies will be born prematurely.

For the study, the researchers collected blood samples from 18 women who had full-term pregnancies.

The women gave one sample during each trimester and another six weeks after childbirth.

The researchers used samples from another group of 10 women who also had full-term pregnancies to verify the findings.

Using a technique called mass cytometry, the researchers simultaneously measured up to 50 properties of each immune cell in the blood samples.

The investigators counted the types of immune cells, determined which signaling pathways were most active in each cell, and assessed how the cells reacted when exposed to compounds that mimic bacterial or viral infection.

The research team then used advanced statistical modeling to document the immune system changes occurring throughout pregnancy. (These adjustments keep the mother's body from rejecting the unborn baby.)

Gaudilliere said, "This algorithm is telling us how specific immune cell types are experiencing pregnancy.

“The study confirmed that natural killer cells and certain white blood cells have enhanced action during pregnancy.

“The researchers also found that a signaling pathway among helper T-cells increases on a precise schedule.”

Study lead author Nima Aghaeepour, an instructor in anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine, said, “"It's really exciting that an immunological clock of pregnancy exists.

"Now that we have a reference for normal development of the immune system throughout pregnancy, we can use that as a baseline for future studies to understand when someone's immune system is not adapting to pregnancy the way we would expect.”

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