Preterm birth – a new biomarker to identify women at risk | Children's Charity

Preterm birth – a new biomarker to identify women at risk

Project LeaderDr R M Tribe, PhD
Project team
  • Dr N Hezelgrave, BSc MBBS
  • Professor A H Shennan, MD FRCOG
  • Dr A J Mason, PhD
LocationDept of Women and Children's Health, St Thomas' Hospital, King's College London
Duration2 years
Grant awarded20 November 2017
Provisional start date1 January 2018
Provisional end date31 December 2020
Grant amount£200,000.00
Grant codeGN2666

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Each year over 61,000 babies in the UK are born prematurely and more than 1,000 die as a result of being born too soon. Children who survive preterm birth have an increased risk of cerebral palsy, visual impairment, hearing loss and learning difficulties. There are many reasons why preterm birth happens, but in early preterm births (before 34 weeks of pregnancy) women often have a mild vaginal infection. However, many women with similar infections have straightforward pregnancies suggesting that how a woman’s body fights these infections is an important factor in determining the risk of preterm birth. The cells lining the vagina try to protect themselves from infection by releasing exosomes, tiny round structures that contain proteins and other ‘biological messages’. Exosomes help neighbouring cells communicate with each other and mount an immune response to invading bacteria. These researchers want to gain a better understanding of how exosomes work in the reproductive tract and see if there are differences between women who give birth prematurely and women whose pregnancies continue until full term.


The research project

The team will analyse fluid samples taken from the vaginal and cervical areas in women during early pregnancy. They will compare exosomes and their contents in 134 women who gave birth at full term and 67 women who had a preterm birth. The researchers plan to investigate how exosomes change the behaviour of vaginal cells grown in the laboratory. Their preliminary research has already identified 25 different biological messages carried in the exosomes of women who went on to have a preterm birth. In this study they hope to identify a specific biological 'finger-print' or biomarker in the exosomes of women most likely to have a preterm birth. This ‘finger-print’ could be used to develop a test carried out during early pregnancy to identify women most at risk of preterm birth. Early identification would allow these women to have the appropriate care and treatment, hopefully helping to reduce the number of babies born prematurely and provide the best possible outlook for all affected families.

Action Medical Research and Borne are jointly funding this research.

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