Other than being the premier cause of infant deaths, a premature birth leads to several complications in survivors which include respiratory disorders and neurological disorders too. Recently, however, all thanks to the rapid advancements in the field of medical science, the number of fatalities caused by preterm births has reduced to a great degree. What researchers are now looking at, is to investigate the causes of premature births, with the possible aim of limiting its occurrence.
The reasons behind the occurrence of a premature birth are being researched since quite some time now, but nothing conclusive has been established so far. Researchers are now looking at a genetic link to determine this phenomenon, and they have some very interesting news lined up.
There are several reasons behind premature labor, but scientists now have identified a gene that has a significant role to play in inducing premature labor. This research follows the theory that evolutionary changes have brought about a change in the process of giving birth among humans.
» In a study, researchers pursued a theory which states that the genes involved in the birthing process are more evolved among humans, as opposed to those seen in other primates. The large size of the human baby’s head and the narrowness of its pelvis strikingly contrasts with the offspring of other primates.
» When one looks at it from the evolutionary timescale, it can be observed that these physical changes took place quite rapidly. This is why, the changes in our genetic makeup evolved as quickly to keep pace.
» The second factor involved is that of the duration of the pregnancy, which happens to be shorter than that of other primates as well as mammals. It is speculated that shortening of the pregnancy term was a result of this very evolutionary change that caused the physical changes in humans. Researchers also wanted to identify that particular gene which controlled the timing of the birth.
» A significant number of DNA sequences related to premature birth were found in the Follicle Stimulating Hormone Receptor (FSHR) gene. The FSHR gene controls the release of the egg from the ovary. Findings like these have raised the hope of having genetic testing done in pregnant women to identify any incidence of risks.
» In a separate study conducted on African-American babies, it was discovered that they are more susceptible to be born with an alteration in the SERPINH1 gene. The presence of this condition leads to lower rates of collagen production, which possibly causes weakened fetal membranes, resulting in premature birth.
» Scientists now have a good reason to think that the shortening of the human gestation period has a genetic link behind it.
» Basically, the idea is that the evolutionary changes are playing an influential role in altering the duration of human pregnancies. Pursuing this theory, however, is easier said than done. Comparative studies on other primates and mammals versus humans do not provide an accurate picture, as the differences in gestation are vast. But the insights that these studies have provided are precious, although they are at a very nascent stage.
Researchers may not have found a solid answer to whether premature births are genetic, as of now. In an ideal situation, doctors would be able to run tests on women who fall under the danger zone, just by examining the pattern of childbirth in their families. Not only could this reduce the number of infant fatalities resulting from premature births, but also curb any future complications that the survivors might have to face as a direct result of being born early.
Reasons behind premature birth continue to remain as mysterious as ever, especially when we exclude social and lifestyle influences. The most bothering statistics are those related to the unexplained premature deliveries. Probing into the genetic aspect of premature births will hopefully bring about a positive change.