Start: March 2015
End: March 2020
Why do we need this research?
If the placenta doesn’t work properly, the baby can be badly affected. Unhealthy placentas can lead to miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, growth restriction and stillbirth. By studying the placentas of women after birth, we know a lot more than we used to about how they work. But this isn’t enough: we need find ways to check the health of the placenta during pregnancy.
What’s happening in this project?
At the Manchester Tommy’s centre, our scientists have developed new methods for looking at the placenta during pregnancy using Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI scans. This technique uses a strong magnetic field to look inside the body.
The team have previously developed an MRI technique to measure how well placentas absorb oxygen, which is essential for the growing baby. Using MRI scans, they have shown that the placenta of women whose babies are growing slowly don’t absorb oxygen in the same way that normal healthy placentas do.
This measurement is currently done using a single MR image, represent one ‘slice’ of the placenta. However, the placenta is a large organ, and different parts of it may take up oxygen at different speeds – particularly if the placenta is unhealthy.
Our scientists have now developed a new technique which takes multiple MR images to provide a 3D picture of the whole placenta. They think that this will provide a much better measure of how the placenta absorbs oxygen than a single ‘2D’ image.
The team are now comparing the 2D and 3D MRI techniques side-by-side to work out if the 3D method is better than the 2D version.
What difference will this project make?
Our researchers hope that their work could lead to new ways to accurately assess the health of the placenta during pregnancy. This would enable doctors to spot any problems early, and treat the mother or deliver the baby early if it is struggling. Therefore this research could eventually help to reduce the risk of stillbirth.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss.
More research projects
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.
Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.
The day before Mother’s Day, and two days before the UK officially went into coronavirus lockdown, Zara Dawson found out she was having a miscarriage. Her third consecutive miscarriage in less than a year, and fourth consecutive loss, after losing her second son Jesse in 2018 to termination for medical reasons.