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
More research projects
A BBC News investigation has found that some private baby scanning studios are misleading customers by advertising “reassurance” scans that do not diagnose serious conditions and abnormalities.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
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.
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.