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Researchers at Stanford University and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub have identified sets of cell-free RNA (cfRNA) biomarkers in the blood of pregnant women that can be used to predict a woman's risk of premature birth.

A pregnant woman's risk of delivering early can depend on factors such as a previous preterm birth, certain pregnancy or medical complications, preeclampsia, stress or diabetes. A woman can also have a premature birth even if she has no known risk factors.

"It's really intriguing to be able to identify when a woman is at higher risk than the general population for a serious complication like preterm birth. That would allow us to focus on them in a way we can't do right now," said Dr. Larry Rand, an associate professor and the Marc and Lynne Benioff Endowed Chair in Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

"On the flip side, in terms of predicting (medically) indicated preterm birth, what you're really predicting is the likelihood that mom or baby will develop a complication like preeclampsia or growth restriction that may require ending the pregnancy early in order to keep mom and baby safe," said Rand, who is also principal investigator of the California Preterm Birth Initiative.