Achieving accurate estimates of fetal gestational age and personalised predictions of fetal growth b
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Preterm birth is a major global health challenge, the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, and a key measure of a population's general health and nutritional status. Current clinical methods of estimating fetal gestational age are often inaccurate. For example, between 20 and 30 weeks of gestation, the width of the 95% prediction interval around the actual gestational age is estimated to be 18–36 days, even when the best ultrasound estimates are used. The aims of this study are to improve estimates of fetal gestational age and provide personalised predictions of future growth.
Using ultrasound-derived, fetal biometric data, we developed a machine learning approach to accurately estimate gestational age. The accuracy of the method is determined by reference to exactly known facts pertaining to each fetus—specifically, intervals between ultrasound visits—rather than the date of the mother's last menstrual period. The data stem from a sample of healthy, well-nourished participants in a large, multicentre, population-based study, the International Fetal and Newborn Growth Consortium for the 21st Century (INTERGROWTH-21st). The generalisability of the algorithm is shown with data from a different and more heterogeneous population (INTERBIO-21st Fetal Study).
In the context of two large datasets, we estimated gestational age between 20 and 30 weeks of gestation with 95% confidence to within 3 days, using measurements made in a 10-week window spanning the second and third trimesters. Fetal gestational age can thus be estimated in the 20–30 weeks gestational age window with a prediction interval 3–5 times better than with any previous algorithm. This will enable improved management of individual pregnancies. 6-week forecasts of the growth trajectory for a given fetus are accurate to within 7 days. This will help identify at-risk fetuses more accurately than currently possible. At population level, the higher accuracy is expected to improve fetal growth charts and population health assessments.
Machine learning can circumvent long-standing limitations in determining fetal gestational age and future growth trajectory, without recourse to often inaccurately known information, such as the date of the mother's last menstrual period. Using this algorithm in clinical practice could facilitate the management of individual pregnancies and improve population-level health. Upon publication of this study, the algorithm for gestational age estimates will be provided for research purposes free of charge via a web portal.