From above: Beena Kamath-Rayne, MD, MPH, Nathan Salomonis, PhD, and Yan Xu, PhD.

From above: Beena Kamath-Rayne, MD, MPH, Nathan Salomonis, PhD, and Yan Xu, PhD

A pregnant woman’s amniotic fluid could predict when it is safe to deliver a premature baby.

Researchers have identified a way to test RNA and genetic signatures in amniotic fluid to see whether fetal lungs – and other organs – are mature enough for a safe delivery. The findings were published Oct. 22, 2015, in BMC Medical Genomics.

By isolating RNA in amniotic fluid at different times during pregnancy, researchers identified 257 genes that were expressed differently in late preterm (34-36 weeks) compared with full-term fetuses. The genes expressed preterm were linked to underdeveloped lungs, decreased lean body mass and immature feeding patterns.

Because the study involved only 16 women, the authors plan to confirm results with a larger group. They also plan to develop a test for fetal maturity that will use the mother’s blood or urine, to avoid amniocentesis.

The research team included lead author Beena Kamath-Rayne, MD, MPH, senior authors Nathan Salomonis, PhD, and Yan Xu, PhD, and investigators in Neonatology, Pulmonary Biology, Bioinformatics, and Maternal-Fetal Medicine.