Just one simple blood test can locate the risk of premature births for some mothers, even if they do not show any other symptoms at 18 weeks of pregnancy. This was the conclusion of a team of scientists and experts from The University of Western Australia (UWA).

Earlier scientists had developed some tests for women with early contractions, and the current blood test has based some of its findings on that test. It shows an accuracy of 86 percent in locating women who are at risk of early delivery.

Most premature births are difficult to predict in the middle of pregnancy, especially the deliveries that will be successful before 37 weeks, said lead researcher, UWA associate professor Craig Pennell from UWA's School of Women's and Infants' Health.

"Our new test will enable women at high-risk early access to medical care which will reduce the rate of preterm birth. In particular, in remote areas, a simple blood test mid-pregnancy can guide which women can remain in their communities and which need to seek early specialist care," Pennell said in a press release.

He added that the breakthrough blood test worked by identifying gene expression in a person's blood that could lead to a high probability of premature birth. However, in order to make the test available to a broader community, further evaluation of the test would be carried out by UWA Perinatal Genomics Research Team and Pennell.

It is important to locate preterm births quickly, as they occur in five to 10 per cent of all pregnancies, but are "associated with 70% of all newborn deaths (excluding genetic anomalies) and up to 75% of newborn disease including cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, respiratory illness and complications of neonatal intensive care."

They can lead to disability and death in babies globally, and may even end up in long-term physical ailments when organs do not develop adequately inside the mother. With the help of the current test, it is possible to ensure better planning, prevention and treatment for the women.

The research was carried out by scientists from the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, University of Toronto and UWA scientists. A CA$5 million (AU$5.2 million) grant has been given by Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.