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STANFORD, Calif. (CBS Local) – A new blood test is showing promising results for helping pregnant women know if they are at risk of a premature birth.

Researchers at Stanford University say the new technique will also calculate a woman’s due date and whether or not she will have a premature delivery. This is much less expensive than standard ultrasound procedures.

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“We found that a handful of genes are very highly predictive of which women are at risk for preterm delivery,” Dr. Mads Melbye said in a press release. “I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working to understand preterm delivery. This is the first real, significant scientific progress on this problem in a long time.”

The blood test reportedly measures maternal, placental, and fetal genes in the mother’s cell-free RNA. Those “messenger” molecules carry genetic instructions around the body, giving the scientists reliable information about the baby’s age in the womb and risk for an early delivery.

“This gives a super-high resolution view of pregnancy and human development that no one’s ever seen before,” Stanford postdoctoral scholar Thuy Ngo added.

The study, published in Science, says the new blood examination can predict a premature delivery with 75 to 80 percent accuracy.

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The noninvasive procedure may help doctors prepare for difficult pregnancies, which can endanger the child’s life. Premature deliveries account for 9 percent of births in the U.S. and are the leading cause of infant mortality in the country.

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