Can low levels of taurine make stillbirth more likely?

Dr Michelle Desforges, Professor Alexander Heazell, Susan Greenwood, Professor Colin Sibley

Tommy’s researchers are looking at how the lack of an important nutrient might harm the placenta during pregnancy, putting women at a higher risk of stillbirth.

Start: August 2015

End: April 2019

Why is this research needed?

When a baby is stillborn, it is often not possible to say why. This can be very distressing for the family. Not only have they suffered the loss of their baby; no one can give them a reason for their pain.

That’s why Tommy’s want to find answers that will not only help us understand why babies are stillborn, but will stop this happening in the future.

Scientists think that one reason may be the placenta not getting enough of an important nutrient: taurine.

What’s happening with this project?

Taurine is essential for our bodies, because the mitochondria – the parts of our cells that make energy – need taurine to work. Our researchers think that if cells in the placenta don’t have enough taurine, our mitochondria can’t make enough energy, and the cells will die.

We also know that the placentas of obese pregnant women cannot take up as much taurine as women with a healthy weight. This may contribute to the higher risk of stillbirth faced by obese women.

Tommy’s researchers are looking at placentas donated by both obese and non-obese women to see if too little taurine can lead to damage to the placenta. From this, they hope to find out if measuring the amount of taurine in the placenta can be used as a test to predict pregnancy complications and stillbirth.

So far, our researchers have been studying the role of taurine in protecting the cells in placentas from damage. The team have done experiments to show that reducing taurine in samples of placenta interferes with how cells protect themselves from damage.

What impact could this project make?

The role of mitochondria in stillbirth is an exciting new area of research that hasn’t been studied before. This project will help us to understand how damage to the placenta can lead to stillbirth, so families can find the answers they need. We can use this knowledge to find new ways of telling when women are at risk, and possibly new treatments that could help stop stillbirths from happening in the future

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