The Preterm Trials Consortium: using long-term trials to answer difficult questions

Prof Andrew Shennan, Dr Jenny Carter, Dr Helena Watson, Prof Rachel Tribe

Tommy’s is setting up a platform that will help researchers study premature birth more effectively.

Why do we need this research?

Research into premature birth is a tricky task. To get results that you can trust, you need long trials that look at large numbers of people. If an illness is rare, or it is difficult to find people to take part in research, it can be hard to test which treatments work best. To make things harder, a lot of funding for research is given for relatively short periods of time: often too short to find meaningful answers, or understand long-term effects. Tommy’s want to change this, so that we can tackle the questions that need answering, and make sure that every baby is born safely.

What’s happening in this project?

We recently supported a study that lasted eight years to test whether the cervical stitch helped women with cervical problems carry their babies to full term. The MAVRIC study was a success, but showed us that to answer questions like this, we need big studies over long periods.

The lessons from the MAVRIC study led to our researchers to set up the Preterm Trials Consortium (PTC). This collaboration between many research centres is designed to help researchers recruit large numbers of women to lots of studies and following them for long periods. By setting this up, scientists can do more to find answers to the many difficult questions still surrounding premature birth.

As part of PTC, our researchers created a database where anonymous information from women who take part in clinical trials could be stored and shared with scientists around the world. The PTC database with went live in December 2016, with 14 centres currently collecting data for this project. So far, 2,641 women have given permission for their data to be stored on the platform, including some women from outside the UK. We hope to see more research centres join the platform in the near future.

Examples of questions that the PTC might try to answer include:

  • If the cervical stitch can help women who have ‘bulging membranes’ – when the sac of fluids surrounding the baby pushes out a little through the cervix. This increases the risk of a woman’s waters breaking early, and can lead to premature birth if it happens early in pregnancy
  • When to remove the cervical stitch in women whose waters have broken
  • The best way to deliver a premature baby that is positioned to come out feet first 

What difference will this project make?

The Preterm Trials Consortium will enable high-quality long-term research to take place. This is necessary to answer some of the big questions we still have around premature birth. The answers to these questions will enable us to predict and prevent babies from being born too early.

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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.

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