The researchers used advanced statistical modelling to examine pregnancy in precise detail.
Doctors have long known that a woman’s immune system adjusts during pregnancy to prevent her body from rejecting the foetus but a new study has broken down those changes in minute detail.
“Pregnancy is a unique immunological state. We found that the timing of immune system changes follows a precise and predictable pattern in normal pregnancy,” Brice Gaudilliere, one of the study’s authors, said.
US statistics show that nearly 10% of babies are born prematurely, meaning they arrive three or more weeks early.
Despite this physicians lack a reliable way to predict premature deliveries.
However the new research opens the possibility of doctors being able to detect pre-term births before they happen if scientists can design a blood test to detect it.
“It’s really exciting that an immunological clock of pregnancy exists,” the study’s lead author, Nima Aghaeepour, said.
Now that we have a reference for normal development of the immune system throughout pregnancy, we can use that as a baseline for future studies to understand when someone’s immune system is not adapting to pregnancy the way we would expect.
Prior research suggested that immune responses may be responsible for triggering early labour.
The researchers built on that evidence by using an advanced statistical modelling technique to describe in detail how the immune system changes during pregnancy.
“This algorithm is telling us how specific immune cell types are experiencing pregnancy,” Brice Gaudilliere, who worked on the study, explained.
They uncovered several previously unheralded features of how the immune system changes during pregnancy including that changes occur on a very precise schedule.
The study was carried out on woman who had full term pregnancies.
The researchers say the next step is to conduct research using blood samples from women who deliver their babies prematurely to see how their immune functions differ.
“The immune system does not act in isolation,” Aghaeepour said.
“We’re now very interested in profiling its interplay with other aspects of mothers’ biology, such as their genetics, metabolism and the body’s microbial communities to come up with a holistic biological clock of pregnancy,” she concluded.