An app could determine a pregnant woman’s risk of premature birth.
The mobile-application QUiPP v2 looks at whether an expectant mother has gone into labour before 37 weeks in the past.
It also takes into accounts levels of the protein foetal fibronectin, which keeps the amniotic sac “glued” to the lining of the uterus.
Existing tests look at whether this “glue” has been disturbed, such as by infection or inflammation, indicating a woman is at greater risk of giving birth within the next week.
Identifying women at risk of premature labour may enable doctors to keep an eye on the patient or offer specialist treatment.
“The joy a newborn brings can be cruelly contrasted alongside the fear when a baby is born too soon,” said Nadine Dorries, patient safety minister.
“Being able to identify mothers at risk of a pre-term birth as early as possible can help clinicians to intervene sooner, improve safety and ultimately save lives.
“We want the NHS to be the safest place in the world to give birth and the harnessing of promising digital innovations such as this is another stepping stone on this shared journey.”
Around eight in every 100 babies in the UK are born before 37 weeks.
In the US, around one in 10 infants arrived too soon in 2018.
Babies that are born at 24 weeks are considered “viable”, meaning it is possible they will survive.
Nevertheless, missing out on development in the womb may leave them with health issues, like being more vulnerable to infections or neurological disorders.
If doctors identify at-risk women in advance, they may recommend bed rest.
Tocolytic medicines can also help slow or stop contractions, while corticosteroids support lung growth in babies who may miss out if born too soon.
Scientists from King’s College London therefore created QUiPP v2.
The app takes into account whether a woman is experiencing premature labour symptoms, like regular contractions, period-type pains, unusual back discomfort and feeling her “waters have broken”.
Medics can also input a woman’s cervical length.
A 1996 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found “the relative risk of preterm delivery increased as the length of the cervix decreased”.
Based on this information, QUiPP v2 calculates an individual’s percentage risk of premature birth.
The King’s scientists put the app to the test in a study published in the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“We are delighted to be able to share the findings of our work, which shows the QUiPP app is very reliable in predicting preterm birth in women at risk”, said lead author Dr Jenny Carter.
“This should mean women who need treatments are offered them appropriately, and also doctors and women can be reassured when these treatments are not needed, which reduces the possibility of negative effects and unnecessary costs for the NHS”.
Results of a study at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, into whether QUiPP “improves appropriate targeting of care”, are expected later this year.