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 Leader||Dr Anna L M David PhD MRCOG MB ChB BSc (Hons)|
|Location||Prenatal Therapy Group, Institute for Women's Health, University College London|
|Grant awarded||14 August 2013|
|Start date||1 May 2014|
|End date||30 June 2016|
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