real life

The blood test that could save the lives of millions of babies

Each year 3 million babies are stillborn. Now, Australian researchers say they have developed a blood test that could prevent at least half of them from occurring.

Mercy Healthy in Melbourne has developed a simple blood test that can detect a baby’s oxygen level inside the womb. It’s called an RNA test. Oxygen and nutrition deprivation is thought to be the cause of at least half of all stillbirths in Australia each year. By detecting issues inside the womb, doctors can help prevent the stillbirth with medical intervention.

When a baby suffers from oxygen deprivation in utero, it can not only lead to stillbirth, it can also cause children to be born with brain damage.

Doctors are excited by the breakthrough. Until now it’s been difficult to detect a baby’s oxygen level before birth. Ultrasounds were the only way to try and identify any issues.

Stephen Tong, the head of Mercy Health’s Translational Obstetrics Group, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the test is the most accurate way to identify problems during pregnancy. “Sometimes we time it too late and there is a stillbirth, or the best guess is to deliver and we deliver early and the baby has suffered from the potential risk of prematurity.”

Unfortunately the test is about five years away from being widely available.

The findings will be published in BMC Medicine this week and while trials have so far proved successful, further testing is required before it becomes a routine test offered to all pregnant women.

A stillbirth is when a baby dies during pregnancy and can occur at anytime from 20 weeks until immediately before birth. By the 20-week mark most women consider themselves on safe ground. Once a pregnant woman passes the 12-week mark they begin telling family and friends, buying bassinets, clothing and bedding and dreaming about the day they hold their healthy little baby.

What can follow is nothing short of tragic.

Instead of coming home with their new babies, these families arrive home empty-handed, driving home in a car with an empty baby capsule, walking into a home with a full nursery set up that they no longer need. Sometimes there’s a sign saying ‘Congratulations’.

Family and friends are informed. The silence that follows is excruciating.

Born in Silence is a video that is being shared around the world. It explains the pain of stillbirths and talks to couples trying to recover from the tragedy.

The Stillbirth Foundation Australia has been established to encourage and fund research to ensure that the stillbirth rate begins to decline. You can find out more here.