Premature birth: unveiling the mysteries | Action Medical Research

Premature birth: unveiling the mysteries

5 July 2001
Newcastle researchers are looking at new ways of preventing the heartache of premature births, says leading medical research charity Action Research. Scientists are hoping to unveil some of the mysteries surrounding the distressing condition, thanks to backing of more than £93,000 from the famous national charity. Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, has awarded the two-year grant to a team based at the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, linked to Newcastle University. Lead researcher, Dr Nicholas Europe-Finner says the team is aiming to improve understanding of what triggers the onset of labour - particularly the control of muscular contractions in the uterus. He adds: "This could lead to the development of new treatments for premature labour, and help prevent one of the commonest causes of death and disability in modern society." About one in 10 pregnancies end with delivery before 'full term', which accounts for 70,000 early births a year in the UK. Babies born prematurely miss out on vital development time in their mother's womb, and are at risk of long term physical or mental disability. At least one in ten of these tiny patients are likely to need intensive care. Furthermore, of the baby population that die shortly after birth, it is thought that up to 65% were premature. Dr Europe-Finner, who will be joined by his colleague Professor Stephen Robson, says: "In many cases, the cause of premature labour remains a mystery. This may be because the mechanisms controlling labour are poorly understood." Present-day treatments include a variety of drugs that halt muscular contractions in the uterus, but there is little evidence that they are effective and some may have adverse side effects for both mother and baby. "The development of more effective treatments would greatly enhance our ability to prevent this disorder", adds Dr Europe-Finner, "But to achieve this, we first need to gain a better grasp of the processes controlling labour." By analysing tissue samples taken from groups of consenting women at various stages of their pregnancy, the Action Researchers will investigate the mechanisms responsible for muscular contractions in the uterus. Action Research chief executive, Simon Moore adds: "In the UK, one in ten of all babies born arrives in this world too early for comfort. Understanding what triggers off the process of labour and preventing it from happening prematurely will help to ensure that every baby gets off to the best possible start in life." Action Research is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email ISDN facilities are available.
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