Charity Action Medical Research has said today that one of its research teams may have found the answer to premature birth in the anti-cancer drug Trichostatin A (TSA).
The charity is funding a further exciting project that will allow the researchers to take their work closer to clinical trials.
The research team, led by Dr Nick Europe-Finner of the School of Surgical and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, has found that TSA, which is currently used to treat breast, bowel and lung cancer, may also ‘control’ early labour contractions.
If this is the case then potentially TSA could prevent premature birth.
Premature babies can face a lifetime of problems and, with around 70,000 babies needing some sort of special care when they are born each year in the UK, this is an area of research that needs to be urgently addressed.
Fortunately Action Medical Research is concentrating its resources with its Touching Tiny Lives Campaign that is looking to provide £3m of funding to cutting edge research that will save the most fragile of lives.
The new research at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, which the charity is funding at a cost of £142,083, will be looking to see if TSA can also regulate a protein that causes uterine relaxation and will hopefully lead to clinical trials.
Dr Nick Europe-Finner said, “Without the help of Action Medical Research none of this would have been possible.
“Premature birth is a huge problem, not just in the UK but across the globe, and currently there is no effective treatment.
“Babies born too early can go on to suffer problems throughout their lives, and prematurity costs the NHS millions of pounds each year.
“Drugs which can currently be used to stop premature labour can have severe side effects for both mother and baby, including long-term heart problems.
“We have shown that we can regulate the receptors that send messages to the muscles to make them relax during pregnancy.
“If we can keep those muscles relaxed, then we can prevent early labour.”
Dr Europe-Finner’s earlier study found that TSA acts on the muscle cells of the womb that are affected by the hormone hCG, which is released by the placenta during pregnancy.
This hormone stimulates the muscles’ cells via specific protein receptors to produce a natural relaxant – but in some women levels of the hormone receptors drop and the result can be contractions and early labour.
In the laboratory, TSA appears to keep the number of hCG receptors at a very high level, thus maintaining uterine relaxation.
Dr Europe-Finner said, “It is surprising that so much about the biology of the human uterus is still unknown, but our work in the laboratory is helping us make important progress.
“Babies born before 32 weeks can face an uncertain future and many are likely to suffer serious health or developmental problems.
“The support of Action Medical Research means that we can continue our work on this very promising study and we may eventually have an effective treatment that won’t put mothers or their babies at risk – one that should cut the number of babies born pre-term, with important consequences for society as a whole.”
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