UCSF researchers develop a new tool to estimate newborn gestational age

Researchers at UCSF have developed a metabolic algorithm that can be used to determine the gestational age of newborns, using a small amount of blood taken from the newborn’s heel. Using 35 metabolic markers collected as part of routine newborn screening, along with birth weight and hours at test, these investigators were able to identify term and preterm newborns with more than 95% accuracy in a cohort of more than 700,000 babies and assign a week of gestation within two weeks in approximately nine in ten newborns.

Given that knowing accurate gestational age at birth is critical for proper management of newborns and tracking of developmental progress, this test may prove beneficial to babies whose mothers did not have access to prenatal ultrasound or who had delayed entry into prenatal care. In some developing settings, these methods may also help researchers, clinicians, and policymakers better calculate baseline rates of preterm birth (<37 weeks of pregnancy), which may assist in efforts aimed at reducing preterm birth worldwide.

Published online on December 11, 2015 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, this study was led by Dr. Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the UCSF School of Medicine and Associate Director of the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative-California. The study was initially funded as a Phase I project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) program. Results of the study were first presented at the GCE annual meeting on October 19, 2015 in Beijing, China.

Given its promising findings, the study has been awarded a prestigious GCE Phase II grant from the Foundation with additional funding support provided by the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative-East Africa. This Phase II work will be conducted in Uganda and Malawi and will assess whether metabolic gestational dating of newborns is possible in these African settings. This work brings together a consortium of investigators from UCSF, UC San Diego, the University of Iowa, Harvard University, the University of Toronto, Makerere University in Uganda, and the University of Malawi.

Grand Challenges Phase I grants were also awarded to investigators in Iowa and Ottawa for similar projects aimed at gestational dating by metabolic profile. These investigators also reported positive findings which will appear in the same print edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.