The Rotary Club of Auckland Harbourside’s glamorous annual Chinese New Year Gala Ball has raised funds into research into a mid-pregnancy blood test able to predict premature birth – a medical advance with the potential to help millions of mothers and babies worldwide. 
Currently, there is no reliable way of predicting whether a woman will give birth early. Around 60% of premature births occur spontaneously, without any warning or prior history.
The research undertaken by the Liggins Institute and the University of Auckland Medical School is on track to change this. A pilot study identified a unique molecular fingerprint in blood taken from women at 20 weeks of pregnancy who went on to give birth prematurely; this fingerprint was not present in samples taken from women who delivered at term.
Each year, the Rotary Club of Auckland Harbourside chooses a medical cause to support through the Ball, which enlivens the SkyCity convention centre with dancing, fine Chinese cuisine, and live entertainment, including traditional lion dancers. 
The funds raised will be directed towards following up the pilot study with a two-year study, which will test a bigger pool of samples, including samples taken at 15 weeks as well as 20 weeks.
The research has the potential for tremendous global impact. Worldwide, over 1 in 10 babies are born too early. If born before 24 weeks, a baby’s chance of survival is slim. Babies born after this stage still require enormous care, and carry a greater risk in later life of learning difficulties, cerebral palsy, growth, obesity and diabetes.
If a reliable test for mothers can be developed, targeted therapies could be provided to delay or even prevent preterm births. “This has the potential to lead to a huge advance in clinical practice,” said study co-lead, Professor Lesley McCowan from the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department at the University of Auckland Medical School.
“Success of this project will benefit not only New Zealand, but also the whole world,” said Donald Sew Hoy, member of Rotary Club of Auckland Harbourside. “We’re proud and honoured to be asked to assist.”