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.  

Get our research updates

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

More research projects

Latest news and views

  • A nurse taking a patients blood pressure in a hospital room

    News

    Pregnancy is a unique chance to predict health risks to mums

    A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.

  • Rising demand for Tommy's midwives in coronavirus lockdown

    News

    Tommy’s awarded grant to help meet rising demand for support during coronavirus lockdown

    Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.

  • Tommy's researchers latest findings

    News

    Tommy’s Research Centres continue vital work on pregnancy complications

    Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.

  • Blog

    Miscarriage during lockdown

    The day before Mother’s Day, and two days before the UK officially went into coronavirus lockdown, Zara Dawson found out she was having a miscarriage. Her third consecutive miscarriage in less than a year, and fourth consecutive loss, after losing her second son Jesse in 2018 to termination for medical reasons.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No