Preventing premature labour | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2014

Preventing premature labour

Over 60,000 babies are born prematurely every year in the UK and tragically around 1,300 of them die. Very premature babies who do survive can spend many weeks in hospital and are at risk of developing lifelong disabilities. 

Professor Nigel Klein and his team at the Institute of Child Health and the Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, were awarded £119,332 in 2010. Their aim was to investigate links between early labour and changes in the mother’s immune system. They believed this made some women more vulnerable to infection, allowing bacteria to grow and spread within the womb, creating an inflammatory response that could trigger labour.

Their study, involving women attending a preterm birth clinic, found that failure to detect certain infection-fighting blood cells was indeed a feature in a majority of pregnancies that ended too soon, especially where babies were born before 34 weeks.The absence of these cells could be detected as early as 12 weeks into a pregnancy, creating a window of opportunity for treatments that may prevent premature birth. The team now aims to develop a simple test to identify women most at risk.

This project was supported by a generous donation from The Henry Smith Charity.

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