Predicting Preterm Birth

Two organizations team up in an effort to predict risk of premature birth using big data and genomics.

By | August 9, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, ANDRE ENGELSThough it affects one out of every nine babies born in the United States, scientists know surprisingly little about what causes preterm birth. To address the issue, two organizations are hedging their bets on big data and genomics, partnering to develop computer models that can predict the risk that a woman’s child will be born before reaching 37 weeks of gestation.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based big data firm GNS Healthcare is collaborating with the Inova Translational Medicine Institute (ITMI) at Inova Fairfax Hospital to mine next-generation sequencing data and electronic medical records gathered by Inova using GNS’s analytics platform, with the goal of commercializing preterm birth predictive models and corresponding software.

“The causes of preterm birth are complex and in about half of cases, are unknown,” the GNS and Inova noted in their announcement. “While there is understood to be a genetic component, no individual genes have been identified as causative to date.”

Researchers at the ITMI are currently following a cohort of 285 premature babies as part of a larger preterm birth study involving 826 families. “Partnering with our colleagues at GNS provides the best opportunity to build a risk assessment/predictive model that takes into account the many variables, including genomic, clinical, environmental, and behavioral factors, that combine to cause a preterm delivery,” ITMI CEO John Niederhuber said in a statement.

“Using ITMI’s unprecedentedly rich and multimodal preterm birth genomic data set, we will build models that can document the complex interactions underlying preterm birth,” added Colin Hill, GNS Healthcare CEO. “These models will create new ways for clinicians and scientists to understand these interactions and will accelerate the discovery of new diagnostic tools and treatments for this condition, as well as other complex conditions.”

But as Fierce Biotech noted, “there are no guarantees that such big data analysis holds the key to cracking the mysteries of a complex health problem like preterm birth.”

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Avatar of: FromHopeToJoy


Posts: 1

August 10, 2013


This would be amazing! My daughter Joy was born at 23 weeks last year.  Due to modern medicine and prayers she is doing great today.  I hemorrhaged at 17 weeks for the first of 4 times because of 100% placenta previa, which turned into placenta accreta (which I believe was caused by 3 prior c-sections). After she came home from 121 days in the NICU, I wrote a memoir called "From Hope To Joy" about my life-threatening pregnancy and my daughter's 4 months in the NICU (with my 3 young sons at home), which is now available on Amazon.  It was quite a roller coaster that I am certain some of you have been on or are currently riding on. My goal of writing our memoir is to give a realistic look at what lies ahead to families with preemies in the NICU while showing them that hope can turn into Joy and that miracles can happen.  Please see my website and subscribe. Thank you.

Avatar of: PD


Posts: 18

August 26, 2013

I am surprised that abortion was not given any mention in this article.  In a paper recently published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ref below), a Canadian research team examined data from 37 studies and found that having a prior abortion increased the risk of subsequent preterm birth by 35 percent, while having more than one prior abortion increased the risk by 93 percent.


 "Induced termination of pregnancy and low birthweight and preterm birth: a systematic review and meta-analysis," BJOG 116(11): 1425-1442 (2009).

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