A team of scientists working across three different cities in the UK - Manchester, Warwick and Derby – have just been awarded a grant by the charity Action Medical Research in order to gain a better understanding of premature labour.
Every year, between two and four percent of all babies born in the UK arrive very early; before 32 weeks of pregnancy - those that are lucky enough to survive can be left with a lifetime of health problems.
This team of scientists hopes that by studying one of the causes of premature labour, their work may lead to the development of better treatments for the management of labour.
The team’s work will begin by examining small pieces of tissue from women who are having hysterectomies or elective Caesareans. From a small piece of tissue, the researchers tease out the cells from the muscle which form the wall of the uterus. The activity of these cells is the key to understanding what happens during labour.
The research results will lead to a better understanding of why mothers go into labour early so that a treatment can be developed to prevent early contractions. The researchers are hopeful that, in the long term, their work will contribute to reducing the numbers of premature births.
Dr Michael Taggart, PhD, from the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester explained, “My colleagues and I have been studying the chain of events linked to contractions.
“The onset of labour is caused when an electrical charge passes across the cells and stimulates them to contract. So, the greater the “electrical excitability” of the cells, the more likely they are to start contracting.
“We are currently looking into elements within the body that generate this higher level of excitability which leads to contractions and early labour, with the hope that once we have clearly identified the cause, we can start looking into methods of prevention.”
Andrew Proctor of Action Medical Research said, “This groundbreaking study is interesting because it seeks to isolate one of the causes of premature birth, so that it can be treated and ultimately the baby can be carried to full term.
“This is one of our Touching Tiny Lives projects, which are urgently looking to find answers to premature birth and pregnancy complications.
“Ten percent of babies need some kind of special care when they are born – we think this is too many and that babies are dying unnecessarily because too little money is invested in projects like this.
“More research is needed to ensure that all babies, especially babies born prematurely, grow up healthy.
“Our Touching Tiny Lives Campaign is looking to raise £3m to fund vital projects whilst highlighting the urgent need for more research.”
Your donation could help fund vital research for children