News of Note—A blood test to predict premature births; A new target for reversing heart failure

Pregnant woman getting checkup
Stanford scientists say a blood test could help pinpoint due dates and preterm pregnancies. (Getty/byryo)

Predicting premature births

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a blood test for pregnant women that they say can predict—with at least 75% accuracy—who will have premature births. What’s more, they say the test can predict the mother’s due date with more accuracy than an ultrasound can. The test works by measuring cell-free RNA, which are bits of RNA cast off into the bloodstream. RNA instructs protein-producing genes. To develop the due-date test, the researchers collected blood weekly from 31 pregnant Danish women and used it to identify nine cell-free RNAs produced by the placenta that could predict gestational age. To predict preterm births, they studied blood samples from 38 American women who were at risk due to early contractions or previous preemie births. They found seven genes from the mother and placenta were predictive of early births. The research was published in the journal Science. (Release)


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Targeting stiffened muscle cells to relieve heart disease

Structures in the heart called microtubules (MTs) can cause diseased heart muscle to become stiff, which in turn hampers heart functioning. Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine have discovered that if they suppress damaged MTs, they can improve the functioning of heart muscle cells. Their work builds on research showing that when members of the tyrosine chemical group decline in MTs, the resulting resistance impedes contracting heart muscles. The Penn team used a drug to suppress the “detyrosinated” MTs, restoring about half of the lost contractile function, they reported in the journal Nature Medicine. (Release)

How colon cancer escapes the immune system

Researchers led by the University of California, Los Angeles, have discovered that colon tumors alter their genes to prevent immune detection. They sequenced the DNA and RNA of 1,200 colon tumors and discovered that highly mutated tumors, or MSI-high tumors, have a preponderance of alterations in genes that interact with the immune system. Colon cancers that are not MSI-high are more likely to have Wnt-activating mutations, which corresponded to a lessened immune response to the tumors. The researchers believe the findings could boost efforts to develop immunotherapies for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. (Release)