Newcastle researchers are turning detective to help solve some of the mysteries plaguing premature labour.
A team of scientists dedicated to the cause have just been awarded an extra £85,412 in funding by national medical charity Action Research.
Lead researcher, Dr Nicholas Europe-Finner, a lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, said: ‘Even in this new Millennium when medical advances are moving at great speed, the cause of premature birth still remains a mystery. Understanding what triggers off the process of labour and preventing it from happening prematurely will be of lasting benefit to generations of babies.
‘This additional funding by Action Research will enable us to keep chiselling away at possible solutions, so that one day we might strike gold. I can’t stress how important research and funding is for countless women and families who have experienced first-hand the heartache associated with such a widespread condition.’
About 7-10% of pregnancies end prematurely, meaning that babies miss out on vital development time in their mother’s womb, and risk long term physical or mental disability. At least one in ten of these tiny patients are likely to need intensive care. Some, sadly, don’t survive at all.
Of the babies that die shortly after birth, 60-70% of the deaths are associated with premature birth.
In this new two-year study, the team is striving to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling labour. They are focusing on muscle contractions in the womb, and in particular, the role of a specific protein that relaxes the womb throughout pregnancy.
The extra funding means Action Research, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has awarded almost £179,000 to this team over the last 18 months.
Dr Europe-Finner will be joined by colleagues Professor Stephen Robson and Dr Robert Phillips, who are all based at the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, which is linked to the city’s University.
The team hope that their work could eventually lead to the development of new treatments for premature labour with important consequences for the prevention of one of the commonest causes of death and disability in modern society.
Action Research is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. Its Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2.5m in 2002 for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk
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