Fetal growth restriction: new hope for babies whose growth becomes dangerously slow in the womb | Children's Charity

Fetal growth restriction: new hope for babies whose growth becomes dangerously slow in the womb

This research was completed on 30 June 2016

Published on 14 November 2013

Up to eight per cent of pregnant women find their baby develops fetal growth restriction – a serious complication of pregnancy, which can be very dangerous for unborn babies.1 Sadly, the most severely affected babies can be stillborn or die soon after birth. Those who survive are at risk of developing lifelong problems such as cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. Dr Anna David, of University College London, is developing what she hopes will be the first treatment for women whose pregnancies are complicated by fetal growth restriction, in the hope of saving babies’ lives and sparing them from disability.

How are babies’ lives affected now?

“Babies whose growth becomes dangerously slow during pregnancy are not only at increased risk of being stillborn – there are also longer term consequences for their health,” says Dr David. “After birth, these babies can suffer problems such as breathing difficulties, severe infections and bowel damage. During childhood, they may develop further difficulties, including learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and poor vision. They are even at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure in adulthood.”

At present, no treatment can improve babies’ growth in the womb. Dr David explains: “Expectant parents whose babies are severely affected face a stark choice between allowing the pregnancy to continue, with the strong likelihood that the baby will die in the womb, and agreeing to have their baby very prematurely, in the knowledge that the baby might still lose his, or her, life despite the best possible intensive care.”

Treatments are needed urgently.

How could this research help?

Dr David is leading the development of a new treatment for women whose pregnancies are complicated by fetal growth restriction.

“We have already shown using a laboratory model that our new treatment, which is called maternal VEGF gene therapy, can improve babies’ growth while still in the womb. In this project, we aim to find out whether treatment also improves babies’ health after birth and over the longer term, again using a laboratory model.”

This work will provide important information to help in the design of large-scale tests of the new treatment – planned for 2016 in pregnant women whose babies have stopped growing properly very early in the womb.

Dr David is optimistic: “Our hope is that this new treatment will mean babies are bigger at birth, have a better chance of escaping the disability and ill health that’s linked to fetal growth restriction, and have a better overall quality of life – throughout their lives.”


1. Mandruzzato G et al. Intrauterine restriction (IUGR). J. Perinat. Med. 36 (2008) 277–281.

Project LeaderDr Anna L M David PhD MRCOG MB ChB BSc (Hons)
Project team
  • Professor Donald M Peebles MD, MRCOG
  • Professor I C Zachary Ph Zachary PhD
  • Dr M Hristova PhD MSc BSc
LocationPrenatal Therapy Group, Institute for Women's Health, University College London
Other locations
  • Centre for Perinatal Brain Research, Department Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College London Medical School
  • Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine, University College London
  • Perinatal Brain Repair Group, Institute for Women's Health, University College London
Duration2 years
Grant awarded14 August 2013
Start date1 May 2014
End date30 June 2016
Grant amount£199,962.00
Grant codeGN2169

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