1 November 2006
An Action Medical Research team based at the University of Warwick has uncovered new evidence, which may hold the link to preventing premature birth. Whilst improved care means that even very premature babies can now survive, many go on to suffer serious health problems for the rest of their lives. There are currently no effective treatments for premature labour. In the UK, 50,000 babies are born prematurely, of which 1500 will die as a result. The team looked at the hormone oxytocin which is known to start labour by helping the uterus to contract. Oxytocin is also used by doctors to speed up labour, as it increases the strength of contractions. The hope is that with the team’s new understanding of how oxytocin works it may be possible to find treatments to stop premature labour. Andrew Proctor of Action Medical Research welcomed the news, “This work really does provide the building blocks of new preventative treatments. Professor Steven Thornton, who headed up the research project, said, “Previous studies have found that oxytocin increases levels of calcium in the uterine muscle cells, which in turn causes effective contractions. “However the mechanisms by which oxytocin regulates contractions of the uterus were not fully understood.” “Our study confirmed that oxytocin increases the duration of raised calcium levels and also the sensitivity of uterine muscle cells to calcium. Through this work we have improved our understanding of the mechanism of action of oxytocin. “This is a crucial step forward and will provide the platform for further work to see how we can stop these effects with drugs.” “However work like ours has been severely hampered by lack of Government funding and we are fortunate that Action Medical Research has chosen to prioritise this area with its £3 million Touching Tiny Lives campaign.” “I would urge anyone who cares about the health and welfare of babies to sign the online petition” “It’s a simple thing to do, but it could help us save more lives.” ENDS NOTES TO EDITORS Action Medical Research estimates that less than £6m of Government funding is made available for research to stop premature birth and pregnancy complications. This is the equivalent to approximately £6 for each baby born in the UK each year. The Stand Up For Tiny Lives online petition is urging the Government to double its investment in this area to stop babies from dying unnecessarily. For more information about Action Medical Research, please contact: Patrick Olszowski Press and PR Manager Action Medical Research Tel: 01403 327493 Email: Action Medical Research is a national charity, which is dedicated to building a healthier future for everyone. The Charity is funding research into many serious diseases and conditions, including premature birth, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, osteoporosis, sickle cell disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Action Medical Research has been making breakthroughs for over 50 years, and its life-saving work benefits babies, children and adults. The Charity’s successes include helping develop the UK polio vaccine, ultrasound scanning in pregnancy, the hip replacement operation, and discovering the link between taking folic acid and preventing spina bifida. Touching Tiny Lives is Action Medical Research’s new campaign to give the most vulnerable babies in this country a better start in life. More research is needed to ensure that all babies, especially babies born prematurely, grow up healthy. Touching Tiny Lives aims to raise £3 million to help fund a range of vital research.
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