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Breakthrough test could save hundreds of thousands of premature babies

Melbourne-based Dr Harry Georgiou has developed a simple test that determines whether a premature birth is imminent

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Dr Harry Georgiou and Dr Megan Di Quinzio.

13 February 2017

For expectant parents, premature birth is a nightmare scenario, and with very good reason. According to the World Health Organisation, 15 million babies are born worldwide before completing 37 weeks gestation, while in 2015 alone one million premature babies died, and of those who survive, 25 per cent will have at least one or multiple severe disabilities.

But Dr Harry Georgiou from the University of Melbourne's Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is closer than ever to changing this data for the better.
Ten years into a significant research project, Dr Georgiou, together with fellow researcher and gynaecologist Dr Megan Di Quinzio, has developed a simple test that can determine whether a pregnant woman is going to give birth prematurely between seven and 14 days in advance.

Said to be "less invasive than the conventional Pap smear", the test is conducted in a similar manner, taking a swab of fluid from the vagina, where the researchers found there to be hundreds of biomarkers (proteins), of which they have isolated about 10 directly related to childbirth, and present in all women who are just days away from giving birth.

Identified after investigations into thousands of pregnant women who volunteered to be considered, Dr Georgiou told Neos Kosmos the aim is now to make the test "accessible in terms of price for all expectant mothers in the world", which he believes in just five years will be part of the routine examination between 24 and 28 weeks' gestation.

The 10-year research has been made possible thanks to a number of charities and Australian National Research Council, and now Singapore-based Carmentix is also investing into the promising breakthrough.

In the final stages, Dr Georgiou is now seeking 2,500 pregnant women to volunteer in clinical trials, which will be submitted for further investigation. "Although we are not currently able to help these women, they understand their help now will save many lives in the future," Dr Georgiou said in praise of the volunteers, giving expectant mothers and their babies hope for a better and healthier life.

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