Study on labour produces exciting results | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - June 2005

Study on labour produces exciting results

Poor, uncoordinated contractions can mean a lack of progress during labour, often resulting in the need for Caesarean section. This carries with it increased risk of complications for both mother and baby.

The mechanisms of labour are to a large extent unknown. Thanks to funding of more than £83,000, Research Training Fellow Dr Joanne Pierce has been investigating the labour proces and in particular, the causes of dysfunctional labours, where contractions are weak or inefficient.

When contractions occur, the blood flow, and therefore oxygen supply, to the uterus decreases. ^Oxygen is important for energy production in the muscle of the uterus, so during contractions energy must be obtained by a different process. This process is known as anaerobic metabolism and it produces a by-product — lactic acid.^

Dr Pierce’s work at the University of Liverpool demonstrated that this increase in acid causes contractions to decrease in strength, which can in turn lead to dysfunctional labour. Dr Pierce also looked at individual cells of the uterus to investigate the cause of this ‘acid effect’. It appears that the energy-producing parts of the cell (the mitochondria) may be directly affected.

These results will hopefully lead to further research, and clinical trials, to reverse the effects of the lactic acid. They could ultimately enable a treatment for dysfunctional labour, which would reduce the need for Caesareans.

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