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With help from a palm-sized plastic rectangle with a few pinholes in it, researchers are hoping to minimize the problem of premature deliveries. The integrated microfluidic device is designed to predict, with up to 90 percent accuracy, a woman’s risk for a future preterm birth.

The goal for the device is to take a finger-prick’s worth of blood and measure a panel of nine identified preterm birth biomarkers — essentially biological flags that can tip people off to diseases or other conditions. There aren’t any current biomarker-based diagnostics for preterm births, and doctors typically only keep tabs on women who have other clear risk factors.

There’s still work to be done at the front end of the process, but for this study, the researchers created the chip and a system for preconcentrating and separating biomarkers on it. That’s important because proteins and peptides are present in such a trace amount. Preconcentrating them on the chip provides enough of a signal for prediction.

Among other benefits, the device is cheap, small and fast: once fully developed, researchers say it will help make detecting biomarkers a simple, automated task.

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