Predicting premature labour: the link between vaginal infections and early birth

Our researchers want to know if we can test vaginal fluid early in pregnancy to find out which women have vaginal infections that are likely to cause their baby to come too soon.

Start: 2018

End: 2020

The effects of premature birth  can be devastating. When a baby is born too soon, it has not finished developing and is not ready for life outside the womb. This means the baby may die or have serious health problems.

We want to identify women who are at risk of premature birth, so that we can provide them with better care and make sure they receive the treatments they need to delay birth for as long as possible.

Infection is a cause of premature birth

Women who give birth to babies very early (before 34 weeks) often have a mild infection in their vagina.

When infection is present, the cells of the vagina release small round structures called exosomes that can carry ‘biological messengers’ to tell nearby cells about the infection.

We think that this process could be linked to premature birth, although we don’t know much about how this works.

Can these cells warn us about premature birth?

By looking at samples of vaginal fluid, we have already found 25 different biological messengers that are present in the exosomes of women who go on to give birth prematurely.

Now, we are going to compare the exosomes that are present early in pregnancy in women who give birth at term and in those who give birth too soon. We are also going to look at how these exosomes change the behaviour of vaginal cells grown in the laboratory.

By looking at exosomes, we hope to identify a biological fingerprint in vaginal fluid that can be used early in pregnancy to predict whether a woman is likely to give birth prematurely. This could help to reduce the number of babies born too soon.

 

The devastating effect of premature birth

Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death in the UK. Babies who survive being born too soon can suffer lifelong consequences for their health.Parents of premature babies suffer a terrible emotional toll, spending up to 3 months in NICU watching their tiny baby struggle to survive.

'Our daughter Tilly lived for 10 minutes in her daddy's strong arms. She took her last breath in his arms knowing nothing but love. I didn't get to see her when she was alive as I suffered complications which put me in theatre.'

Alexis, mother to Tilly, born prematurely

Join the fight for healthy pregnancies and babies

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and fighting to make pregnancy and birth safer. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight, click here.

More about Tommy's research

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    In addition to our core work on miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and pre-eclampsia, Tommy’s also funds projects that research the effects of lifestyle and well-being on pregnancy and on the later life of the child.

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    When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    Research into premature birth

    Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.

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    Research into miscarriage

    1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 in 100 women have 3 or more miscarriages in a row. Research into this area of pregnancy loss has been underfunded for years.

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