Fetal DNA and preterm labour

Sara Van Boeckel, Heather MacPherson, Jane Norman, Sarah Stock

Our researchers have been investigating the link between fetal DNA and preterm labour. They have shown that fetal DNA in the blood does not contribute to premature birth or inflammation.

This project has now ended.

Start: 2016

End: 2020

Why do we need this research?

During pregnancy, small fragments of the baby’s DNA are released from the placenta into the blood.  This DNA – known as cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) – can be picked up in the mother’s blood using a simple blood test. Tests in the second and third trimester can use the baby’s DNA to find out the sex of the baby, as well as to diagnose genetic diseases.

Recent studies have shown that women who give birth early have higher levels of cell-free DNA than women who give birth at full term. However, we don’t understand why this is the case.

What’s happening in this project?

Our researchers have performed a series of studies to investigate the link between cell-free fetal DNA and preterm birth. In particular, the team were looking at inflammation, which is how the immune system responds to unusual substances or microbes like bacteria.

Using samples of placenta donated by pregnant women after birth, they found that inflammation does not increase the amount of cffDNA. Also, using blood samples donated by pregnant women, the team found that cffDNA does not cause inflammation. Finally, our researchers found that cffDNA does not cause preterm birth in mice. 

What difference will this project make?

This research has shown that cffDNA does not appear to cause inflammation or pre-term birth. It is more likely that it is premature birth that is somehow causing a rise in cffDNA. Our researchers are continuing to study the relationship between inflammation and premature birth, so that one day we might be able to stop it from happening.  

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