Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK each year, putting them at a higher risk of developing health problems. But researchers from King's College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ have developed an app called QUiPP that could help predict if a woman is going to give birth prematurely. As well as providing support for those who will go in to labour early, for those at risk, the app can also confirm they won’t give birth prematurely, reducing unnecessary treatment and hospital admissions and providing reassurance to mothers-to-be.
The app works by calculating the risk of premature birth using an algorithm that assesses several factors, including a history of previous premature births, a cervical length measurement and level of fetal fibronectin – a ‘glue’ that binds the amniotic sac to the lining of the uterus.
Through clinical trials, the app has been shown to be a very accurate tool for predicting preterm birth within seven days. It would be useful for women experiencing early symptoms, such as contractions, or women who are asymptomatic but deemed at high-risk due to other factors.
The researchers have also begun a project to further assess the efficacy of app in pregnant women at 13 obstetric centres across the UK. The project aims to recruit 580 women over 12 months to look at whether the app can reduce the number of women with symptoms of threatened preterm labour, most of whom will not actually go onto deliver their babies within seven days, being unnecessarily admitted to hospital and given medical interventions.
Chief investigator Professor Andrew Shennan OBE, consultant obstetrician at Guy's and St Thomas' and Professor of Obstetrics at King's College London, said: “The more accurately we can predict a woman’s risk of preterm birth, the better we can manage a woman's pregnancy to ensure the safest possible birth for her and her baby.
"It can be difficult for doctors to accurately assess a woman's risk, given that many women who show symptoms of preterm labour do not go on to deliver early.”
Dr Katy Kuhrt, research fellow and EQUIPTT study coordinator, said: “To avoid missing cases, the current NICE guidelines advise that all women with symptoms of threatened preterm labour, less than 30 weeks of gestation, are treated, when in actual fact less than 3% of these women will deliver within seven days.
“Women are often admitted or transferred to other hospitals ‘just in case’ and given medication like antenatal corticosteroids. This means maternity beds and neonatal cots are blocked and unavailable for those who actually need them, which can be hugely costly to the NHS. We hope that the QUiPP app will help clinicians better manage women threatening preterm labour and move away from the traditional one size fits all approach.”