Touching Lives - March 2010
Could a hormone which causes contractions offer answers to help prevent early labour?
More than 50,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. More than 25 of these babies die each week because of complications that arise from their early birth. Premature birth is also a major cause of disability.
Dr Vasso Terzidou of Imperial College, London, and her team are focusing on the role of a hormone called oxytocin which is known to cause the muscle of the womb to contract.
The researchers have discovered that oxytocin binds to the membranes surrounding the baby in the womb and that this binding increases at the start of labour.
But although the muscles of the womb contract, in response to oxytocin binding to them, the membranes do not, so why oxytocin binds to them and what effect this has on labour, is a mystery.
The researchers hope that if they can discover what role oxytocin has in the membranes and if this triggers labour, they may be on the way to finding out if drugs have the potential to block its action.
Ultimately, they hope to find new ways to prevent or delay premature labour, and stop so many babies from being born too soon.