Premature labour | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - June 2005

Premature labour

A team of scientists working in three different cities across the UK have been given an Action Medical Research grant for a study which aims to develop a better understanding of what causes premature labour.

The team’s work will begin by examining small pieces of tissue taken from women who are having hysterectomies or elective Caesareans. From a piece of tissue about 1cm square, the researchers tease out ‘myometrium’ — cells from the muscle which forms the wall of the uterus. The activity of these cells is key to understanding what happens during labour.

In premature labour, the muscles of the uterus start contracting too early. ^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.

In order for the muscles to contract they need energy which is provided by consuming oxygen. But when the uterine muscle contracts it can actually shut off the blood vessels supplying this essential oxygen. The muscle then relaxes, and blood rushes through the arteries again, creating a kind of feedback system. The oxygen in this new blood sometimes combines with by-products from the reaction of the contracted uterus to create another by-product called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).

Normally, this is a routine process. But if too much oxygen is consumed, or the blood vessels are shut off for too long, too many of these ROS are produced, disturbing the normal equilibrium. The team will investigate the possibility that high levels of ROS could be altering the electrical excitability of the myometrium, causing it to contract at the wrong time and possibly initiating premature labour.

If they manage to identify which types of ROS are causing the problem, a drug could be developed that will dampen their impact. The researchers are hopeful that, in the long term, their work will contribute to reducing the incidence of premature labour.

Dedicated funding

Action Medical Research is only able to fund this vital research thanks to the extraordinary dedication of a team of cyclists who came to know the Charity through last year’s London to Paris bike ride.

The Barking Badgers, as the team is known, is chaired by Tim Mason, Marketing Director of Tesco PLC, and consists of several other Tesco directors, employees, business associates and friends.^ Tim and The Badger team raised over £30,000 for Action Medical Research in 2004 and had such a great time that they’ve taken part in another cycling event to raise the £50,000 needed to fund the first year of this exciting research.^

A team of 50 Barking Badgers travelled to Italy in May to participate in the Giro del Tasso — Tour of the Badger. The event, based on the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France, presented The Badgers with a truly challenging ride, during which they faced tough climbs, time trials and an exciting team pursuit. The five-day trip took them from Milan to Venice and tested everyone’s stamina, resolve and ability to work as a team — but they came through in style!

Research project leaders Dr Michael Taggart and Dr Gregory Fyfe said, “We are delighted that The Barking Badgers have been inspired to raise vitally needed funds for our research into premature labour.” Action Medical Research would like to say a huge thank you to all The Barking Badgers for this fantastic contribution to our Touching Tiny Lives Campaign.

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