Could plant-based supplements help to improve fetal growth?

Professor Melissa Westwood, Dr Lynda Harris, Professor Ed Johnstone

We currently have no effective treatments to help babies who are growing too slowly in the womb. Our researchers are studying the effects of tiny particles found in fruit and vegetables on the placenta. This could provide a safe treatment to help ensure babies grow normally, preventing stillbirth.

Start: October 2020

End: September 2021

Why do we need this research?

Babies whose growth slows down or stops during pregnancy have an increased risk of stillbirth and death shortly after birth. These babies are also at risk of certain health problems later in life, such as heart disease.

Currently there are no treatments options available for babies who aren’t growing as they should. The only option is to deliver the baby prematurely, which carries its own risks and increases the chances of health problems later in life.

We need to find treatments to prevent complications which could lead to stillbirth, and give all babies the best possible start in life.

What’s happening in this project?

We know that babies are more likely to grow normally if their mothers eat lots of fruit and vegetables during pregnancy. So far it hasn’t been clear why this is the case. But researchers funded by Tommy’s have discovered that tiny particles called ‘extracellular vesicles’ (EVs) found in fruit and vegetables can have a beneficial effect on placenta cells grown in the lab.

In this project, our researchers want to study these EVs further. They plan to extract EVs from a variety of common fruit and veg eaten in the UK, and study the effect they have on placenta cells grown in the lab.

The team will also study EVs consumed by pregnant mice and rats, and track if the EVs can be found in their uterus, placenta or fetuses. They will assess the effect these EVs have on the health of the placenta, and the number and size of the pups the rodents have.

What difference will this project make?

This project will show whether EVs from fruit and veg could improve the growth of fetuses in the womb, which might lead to clinical trials in humans. EVs from fruit and veg could provide a safe treatment for women who are at risk of their babies growing slowly, and ultimately help to prevent stillbirth and later health problems.

Get our research updates

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.

More research projects

Make a donation to Tommy's

Read Tommy's new and views

  • A nurse taking a patients blood pressure in a hospital room

    News

    Pregnancy is a unique chance to predict health risks to mums

    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.

  • Rising demand for Tommy's midwives in coronavirus lockdown

    News

    Tommy’s awarded grant to help meet rising demand for support during coronavirus lockdown

    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.

  • Tommy's researchers latest findings

    News

    Tommy’s Research Centres continue vital work on pregnancy complications

    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.

  • Blog

    Miscarriage during lockdown

    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.