Nav: Home

Could a 'metabolic fingerprint' identify premature babies in developing countries?

September 06, 2016

OTTAWA, CANADA - What if a blood spot from a newborn could identify vulnerable children at birth? One of the biggest vulnerabilities is being born premature. Canadian researchers are hoping that metabolic markers found in blood spots routinely collected from infant heel pricks as part of newborn screening will help determine gestational age in newborns and lead to better care for infants in developing countries.

"We are looking for a metabolic fingerprint that could help estimate gestational age from specific molecules found in blood," said Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine specialist, senior scientist and Chair in Public Health Innovation at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. "Knowing the gestational age of a newborn can guide assessments for that child and help determine the best post-natal care."

Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of death and illness in newborns around the world. In many low-income countries, the gestational age of a newborn is unknown. Prenatal care, including ultrasound to determine fetal age and development, is often unavailable and mothers do not always know the date of conception.

Scientists from The Ottawa Hospital, the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the University of Ottawa are leading an international team that will test whether a calculator that has successfully determined gestational age in Canada can be used in developing countries.

"I am very pleased to use newborn screening expertise in Ontario to help children in other countries, especially lower income countries," said Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer, Newborn Screening Ontario and clinical investigator, CHEO Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. "We are also excited about the potential to expand this approach beyond prematurity. This research will create the tools and methods to explore this for other important childhood health issues both in Canada and abroad."

Preliminary results

The project recently received US $1.2 million from the Gates Foundation through the Grand Challenges Explorations program. This Phase II funding will allow the team to expand a successful pilot project, which received $100,000 in Phase I funding in 2014.

The pilot project involved analyzing routinely collected data from more than 400,000 babies born in Ontario, Canada. The researchers found that the levels of certain metabolic compounds in the blood of newborns, combined with sex and birth weight, could determine the gestational age of newborns within 1 to 2 weeks. This research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Phase II funding will allow the research team to refine and validate this gestational age calculator on a global scale. Working in partnership with scientists and clinicians in China, the Philippines, Zambia, Bangladesh, Canada and the United States, the team will pilot the method in the field, using heel prick blood samples from newborns in Bangladesh and Zambia. Dr. Steven Hawken, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, will validate the calculator using newborn screening databases from China and the Philippines.

If successful, the researchers hope their calculator will allow families and health-care workers to provide specialized care to premature babies, including vaccines. Knowing that a baby is premature would also allow for customized developmental assessments, which could lead to faster identification of other health problems. The gestational age calculator could also help monitor preterm birth at a population level and measure the success of programs to reduce this.
-end-
Other investigators in this project include Dr. Julian Little (professor and Chair of the School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Human Genome Epidemiology), Dr. Beth Potter (associate professor of the School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, University of Ottawa) and Dr. Mark Walker (Chief of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Newborn Care and senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital and professor and Chair of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Ottawa).

The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada's largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See http://www.ohri.ca for information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the CHEO Research Institute

The CHEO Research Institute coordinates the research activities of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and is affiliated with the University of Ottawa. Its three programs of research include molecular biomedicine, health information technology, and evidence to practice research. Key themes include cancer, diabetes, obesity, mental health, emergency medicine, musculoskeletal health, electronic health information and privacy, and genetics of rare disease. The CHEO Research Institute makes discoveries today for healthier kids tomorrow. For more information, visit http://www.cheori.org and @CHEOhospital



University of Ottawa


The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada's top 10 research universities--our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today's challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe. http://www.uottawa.ca

Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute

Related Birth Weight Articles:

Study shows link between maternal marijuana use and low birth weight
Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University and Brescia University College found that women who used marijuana while pregnant were almost three times more likely to have an infant with low birth weight.
Link found between financial strain and low-birth-weight babies
A financially strapped pregnant woman's worries about the arrival and care of her little one could contribute to birth of a smaller, medically vulnerable infant, a new study suggests.
Both low and high birth weight linked to fatty liver disease in children
Both high and low birth weights show increased risk for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Birth weight is risk factor for fatty liver disease in children
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with a cohort of clinical collaborators from across the United States, have demonstrated the impact of low and high birth weights in developing Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a chronic disease that often leads to a need for organ transplantation.
Re-assessing 'at risk' cutoffs for birth weight
A research article published in PLOS Medicine contributes to the evidence base regarding the use of population charts for detection of fetal growth disorders and how best to determine risk of complications.
Study: Depression in pregnancy, low birth weight tied to biomarker
A biomarker in pregnant women is linked to depression and low fetal birth weight.
Urine of pregnant women could be used to predict fetal growth and birth weight
The urine of pregnant women could be used to help identify lifestyle interventions that help maintain a healthy birth weight for their baby, according to new research published in BMC Medicine.
How baby's genes influence birth weight and later life disease
New research finds genetic differences that help to explain why some babies are born bigger or smaller than others.
Maternal gastric bypass may be associated with low birth weight babies
Women who undergo gastric bypass surgery for weight loss risk giving birth to babies that are small or have lower average birth weights.
Babies born with a low birth weight may be less active in later life
Individuals who are born with a low birth weight are less likely to be good at sports at school or participate in exercise later on in life.

Related Birth Weight Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...