Premature labour could be caused by the way that some mothers’ bodies overreact to the simplest of infections during pregnancy.
Action Medical Research is funding a groundbreaking study - as part of its Touching Tiny Lives campaign - by Professor Phil Bennett at Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College, London.
The £122,127 study aims to find out why some women develop serious inflammation of the membranes surrounding their developing baby; often with catastrophic effects on the pregnancy.
Many mums never know why they have gone into premature labour. All they realise, all too quickly, is that the unexpected and early birth has left their tiny baby at a greater risk of disability, disease and even death.
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, like Professor Bennett’s, which will save the most fragile of lives.
Professor Bennett’s theory is that tiny parts of the immune system, which act as ‘look-outs’ for infection, get spurred into action unnecessarily in certain women.
Virtually all cases of premature labour have evidence of inflammation in the membranes surrounding the developing baby in the womb yet more than half of these have no infection.
Professor Bennett wants to know which specific types of ‘look-outs’, called Toll-like receptors, could be responsible for premature birth and how and why they trigger inflammation.
If he can find his answers, doctors may then be able to pinpoint those women who are at greater risk and then treat them with either anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics to stop them going into early, and possibly devastating, labour.
Professor Bennett said, “It is fantastic that Action Medical Research is funding this hugely important area of research. If we can establish why the Toll receptors spring into action without apparent infection being present then we can begin looking at some real solutions to early labour.
“We may be able to save lives by ensuring that those mothers who we believe to be at risk are treated with anti inflammatory drugs or antibiotics.
“This area of research is tremendously important; tragically we still have over 3,000 babies dying within their first year in the UK and premature birth is the single biggest cause.
“Action Medical Research has recognised that more funding is needed to research the issues surrounding prematurity and pregnancy complications and has established its Touching Tiny Lives campaign to do just that.
“In fact it is due to funding from Action Medical Research that I began my career in research.”
The highly respected researcher launched his career with the help of a Research Training Fellowship Grant from Action Medical Research in 1988. He added, “Training in a medical specialism such as obstetrics is like an apprenticeship.
“Once a doctor starts up the well-established clinical career ladder it is difficult to get the opportunity to learn research skills or to do research.
“The catch 22 for the young and motivated would-be researcher is that without a previous track record they are not likely to obtain a project grant, but without a grant they are not likely to be able to do good research and establish a track record!
“Fortunately, this is where an Action Medical Research Training Fellowship helped me. After spending three years as an Action Medical Research Training Fellow myself, and obtaining a PhD, I was able to write my own research project grant applications.
“I went on to start a small research group, and then became an academic consultant. My research team has gradually grown to its current complement of ten researchers and, over the past ten years, nine PhD students have come through the group.
“Thanks to Action Medical Research many more researchers are working on crucial projects that will save lives.”
Your donation could help fund vital research for children