An Action Medical Research team at Imperial College, London thinks they may have tracked down one of the reasons why about 8,000 babies are born prematurely every year in the UK.
The culprit believed to be a bacterium, and if the team can prove it is a common cause of pre-term labour, then doctors can start to consider the use of treatments specifically to prevent its growth, potentially benefiting thousands of mothers and their newborn babies every year.
Their new two-year study continues on from a previous Action Medical Research funded project, in which modern molecular biology techniques were used to visualize and identify bacteria in the foetal membranes.
Dr Sullivan from the Imperial College team said,
”Bacteria are quite commonly found within the womb; sometimes they are harmful and sometimes not. We’re not clear on how they develop, but we have isolated one particular bacterium – Fusobacterium nucleatum – which appears to be a troublemaker.
“We’re studying the effects of this bacterium on fetal membranes, which are donated with the full consent of parents following birth, and this allows us to create a model of what may happen in pregnancy and pre-term labour.”
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.”
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