Touching Lives - December 2004
Researchers test drugs to prevent premature labour
Up to ten per cent of pregnancies end with delivery before ‘full term’, and babies born prematurely risk suffering from long term physical and learning disability. Furthermore, of those babies that die shortly after birth, up to 65 per cent are premature. In many cases, the cause of premature labour remains a mystery, largely because the mechanisms controlling labour are poorly understood. As a consequence, present-day treatments for premature labour remain ineffective.
Human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) is an important pregnancy hormone. The placenta produces high levels of hCG during pregnancy, which helps to keep the uterus in a relaxed state so that pregnancy can progress to term. The hormone binds to ‘receptors’, specific proteins on the muscle cells of the uterus, which in turn prevents contractions of the uterus. Researchers have previously shown that the high numbers of these receptors dramatically decrease during both preterm and term labour. Now, funding of £85,000 from Action Medical Research has enabled researchers at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne to study further the role of hCG in pregnancy and labour.
By using human cells in laboratory studies, the Newcastle team has successfully identified the biochemical factors which control the numbers of hCG receptors in the uterus. During the two-year project, the team also tested a number of drugs which were shown to increase the numbers of hCG receptors in these human cells. ^This could represent an important step towards finding treatments to prevent premature labour^.
Dr Nick Europe-Finner, who headed the research team, told Touching Lives, “Action Medical Research has funded work in this laboratory for nearly ten years. Our goal is to prevent the incidence of premature labour, and without their crucial support we and other investigators in the UK would be severely hampered as we try to unravel the biochemical and genetic pathways that regulate the activity of the uterus during pregnancy.”