Using statins to prevent brain injury during premature birth

Jane Norman, Sarah Stock, Eleanor Whitaker

Premature birth can lead to health problems for the baby, including brain injury. Our researchers are looking into whether statins – drugs to prevent heart disease – could also be used to prevent brain injury in premature babies.

Start: April 2018

End: April 2021

Why do we need this research?

One of the potential complications linked to premature birth is injury to the baby’s brain. This can have a big impact on the baby’s wellbeing after birth. However, we don’t have the treatments we need to prevent damage to the brain which can be caused by premature birth.

What’s happening in this project?

Researchers believe that the brain injury which can result from premature birth is caused by inflammation in the brain. Previous research has shown that anti-inflammatory drugs called statins – normally used to prevent heart disease – could also be helpful to prevent brain injury. For example, early studies have shown that statins can prevent brain injury in pre-eclampsia.

Our scientists think that statins could be useful to prevent brain injury in premature babies too. Before they can test this in pregnant women, the team need to investigate the idea further in the lab using pregnant mice. The team are currently developing a way to study how premature birth affects the brains of mouse pups. This will allow our researchers to investigate whether statins, such as pravastatin or simvastatin, could prevent brain injury.

What difference will this project make?

The results of this project could provide the evidence we need to begin a clinical trial of statins in pregnant women at risk of premature birth. If successful, this work could lead to a new treatment to prevent health complications in premature babies like brain injury, giving these babies the best chance of a healthy life.

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