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Premature Birth Research

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Professor Taggart in the laboratory

Reducing the risk of preterm birth

Currently, there are no treatments available that can reliably prevent premature womb contractions while also being risk-free for the mother and baby. For example, many drugs that are effective at reducing contractions may also relax blood vessels and affect blood flow to the womb or placenta, which could put the baby at risk.

At Newcastle University, Professor Michael Taggart hopes to change this by investigating ways to target the muscles of the womb without affecting other important tissues. This research could ultimately lead to safer and more effective treatments for spontaneous preterm birth. We are co-funding this project with Borne.

We’re aiming to find a way to specifically target the muscles of the womb without affecting other important tissues – safely and effectively reducing the likelihood of spontaneous preterm birth.

Professor Michael Taggart
Baby lying on their stomach in a incubator

Discovering new ways to prevent spontaneous preterm birth

A major barrier to preventing premature birth is that we do not yet fully understand how the onset of labour is triggered.

Dr Victoria Male and her team, based at Imperial College London, have identified a new kind of immune cell in the lining of the uterus, whose number and activity increases during labour. These cells switch on genes that activate the local immune response and help the waters to break.

With co-funding from Borne, the team now aims to determine whether these cells trigger full-term labour – and whether these cells are also involved in spontaneous preterm labour.

By understanding how these cells are involved, future studies might be able to target them to reduce rates of premature birth.

Dr Male
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Professor Rachel Tribe standing in a hospital, smiling at the camera

Developing immunotherapy to prevent spontaneous preterm birth

Professor Rachel Tribe is aiming to develop a new treatment that can help prevent spontaneous preterm birth by modifying the mother’s immune and inflammatory responses during pregnancy. If the approach is successful, it could lead to happier outcomes for many babies and their families in the future.

When babies are born prematurely without any obvious explanation, it may be that problems with the mother’s immune response and the presence of inflammation and/or infection are involved.

Professor Tribe
Dr T’ng Chang Kwok on the neonatal ward

Using artificial intelligence to improve outcomes

Sadly, more than a third of babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy develop a serious lung condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia or lose their lives within their first few weeks.

Dr T’ng Chang Kwok of the University of Nottingham aims develop an AI-based system that can accurately recognise complex patterns within the medical research of thousands of very preterm babies. He hopes this new tool will guide personalised treatment decisions, improving outcomes for these vulnerable babies. 

Predicting who is most likely to benefit from treatment, and when, would give each child the best chance of a successful

Dr Kwok
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Together we will find a way

Baby wearing sensor gap as part of research project

Importance of sleep cycles on brain development

Professor Topun Austin of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is leading a study to help preterm babies who are at higher risk of long-term neurodevelopmental complications. Professor Austin and his team will investigate the importance of a baby’s natural sleep cycle for healthy brain development and how caring for these babies in an environment unlike that of the womb – in the bright lights and loud noises of the neonatal unit – may interrupt these essential sleep cycles.

Ultimately, we hope to develop a new system for use in neonatal units that can help to promote sleep cycling and support healthy brain development in these vulnerable babies.

Professor Austin

Preventing preterm labour in women at high-risk

Evidence suggests that bacteria can pass into the womb, triggering inflammation and increasing the risk of early labour.

Dr Ashley Boyle and Professors Simon Waddington and Donald Peebles of University College London are developing an innovative antimicrobial therapy that aims to boost the body’s natural defences against infection.

If successful, this could ultimately lead to a new antimicrobial therapy that can help protect the womb from infection and, in turn, reduce the chances of preterm birth in high-risk women – improving survival and quality of life for their babies.

If our results are encouraging, we hope this will ultimately lead to clinical trials in women at high risk of giving birth too soon.

Dr Boyle
A history of research success

A history of research success

At Action Medical Research, we fight for answers. Answers that can lead to cures, treatments and medical breakthroughs for some of the toughest fights our children face.

Take a look at our history of funding groundbreaking research that has benefited thousands of babies and their families.