A blood test that could help prevent the tragedy of stillbirth has been developed by researchers at Mercy Health in Melbourne.
Medical professionals have long struggled to identify and measure the oxygen levels of a baby inside the womb, which leads to difficulty in diagnosing oxygen and nutrient deprivation in foetuses.
About half of the 2,000 recorded stillbirths in Australia each year are caused by oxygen and nutrient deprivation. The condition can also result in brain damage and other serious injuries in infants.
Traditionally, an ultrasound is used to estimate the oxygen levels in the womb. However, the head of Mercy Health's translational obstetrics group, Stephen Tong, has said ultrasound is not a completely reliable diagnostic tool.
"Ultrasounds are good but they are not perfect and sometimes we time it too late and there is a stillbirth or the best guess is to deliver and we deliver too early and the baby has suffered from the potential risk of prematurity," Mr Tong said in a December 9 article from The Age.
After three years of extensive research, the Mercy Health group found that when oxygen levels are low, fragments of genetic material called RNA leak from the placenta into the mother's blood.
This means a simple blood test can detect RNA levels and diagnose low oxygen levels, providing life-saving knowledge that could help the one in 135 women who are affected by a stillbirth.
A large international clinical trial has now been implemented, including 180 pregnant women across seven major hospitals throughout Australia and New Zealand.
"We'll get those results over the next few years, but the technology already exists so we could have a text within five years," Mercy Health scientist and clinician Clare Whitehead said.
While the blood test is a few years away from official release, Australian women are encouraged to attend regular antenatal and OB GYN appointments to monitor the risk of stillbirth.
For those women considering starting a family in the future, now is the best time to look into family health insurance.
Because of the health fund waiting periods applied to private health insurance in Australia, treatment and specialist expenses related to pregnancy will not be covered by your health insurance benefits for up to 12 months after taking out a policy.
If you would like more information on private health cover for your pregnancy-related medical expenses, talk to the team at HICA today.
HICA can offer expert advice and an in-depth health insurance comparison to ensure you receive the best cover for your current and future medical needs.