Researchers at the University of Western Australia and King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth predict a new test could reduce premature birth by up to 30 per cent.
Babies born prematurely are the single biggest cause of death and disability in children under five years of age in the developed world.
The researchers teamed up with Australian molecular diagnostics company SpeeDx to commercialise the new low-cost test to identify women at risk of premature birth.
UWA Senior Research Fellow and microbiologist Dr Matthew Payne, from the Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, says every year around 15 million babies worldwide and 25,000 in Australia are born premature.
“Bacterial infections of the womb are a major cause of premature birth but until now we haven’t been able to accurately identify women at risk, so antibiotic treatment hasn’t been particularly successful or widely adopted,” he said.
“The new test will allow us to identify women at risk early on in their pregnancy so they can be treated with antibiotics and probiotics to prevent premature birth.”
Senior Commercialisation Officer Dr Samantha South, from UWA’s Research Commercialisation office, says bringing the test into hospitals and making it accessible for medical practitioners will have immense benefits in Australia and around the world.
The researchers aim to recruit more than 6,000 Australian women to trial the test, part funded by a $1.7 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council. The research comprises part of Women and Infants Research Foundation’s preterm birth prevention initiative, ‘The whole nine months’.
It will be assessed over the next four years through a randomised clinical trial. If successful, routine screening and treatment in early pregnancy can be used to lower the rates of preterm birth, providing a healthier start to many young lives.