Finding new treatments to improve placental function and prevent stillbirth

Dr Lynda Harris, Stacey Lee, Dr Mark Dilworth, Professor Alexander Heazell

Our researchers are working out the best way to test new therapies that could improve how the placenta functions and so prevent stillbirths.

Start: September 2017

End: September 2020

Why do we need this research?

There are around 8 stillbirths in the UK every day. It is crucial that we understand more about why stillbirths happen and what we can do to prevent them.

The most common cause of stillbirth is failure of the placenta to provide the baby with the nutrients and oxygen it needs to grow. To study why the placenta may fail, researchers sometimes perform experiments in female mice that are mated at 38–42 weeks old. These mice are classed as having an advanced maternal age, and usually have high stillbirth rates and abnormal placentas.

However, while these mice have helped scientists to understand more about how stillbirth occurs, they have such severe abnormalities that researchers can’t use them to test new therapies that might improve how the placenta functions. We need new way to test treatments to prevent stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, researchers funded by Tommy’s want to find out whether ‘moderately-aged’ mice – mated at 28–32 weeks – might be more helpful for testing new therapies to prevent stillbirth.

So far, our scientists have shown that these mice have abnormal placentas and that their pups do not grow as big as they should, but also that they experience fewer stillbirths than the older mice. The team are now exploring the ways in which the placentas of these moderately-aged mice are failing. For example, they are studying whether the placentas in these mice have problems absorbing nutrients.

Once they have done this, our scientists will test therapies to see if they can reduce stillbirth rates in these mice. They will combine the therapies with small molecules called placental homing peptides, which bind only to the surface of the placenta, ensuring that our therapies are delivered straight to where they are needed.

What difference will this project make?

This project will establish whether these moderately-aged mice would be useful for future research. Ultimately, this will help scientists find new therapies that help the placenta to work more effectively, and so prevent stillbirth.

Join the fight against baby loss

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

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Read stillbirth stories

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    Sharon and her husband Andrew from Manchester lost their son, James, at 29 weeks to stillbirth. Sharon was referred to the Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic with her second pregnancy

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    As part of our ongoing partnership with MAM who donate 50p for every Rainbow Soother sold, Tommy’s sat down to chat with Samantha Jones, founder of the blog ‘Storms and Rainbows’ about her experiences of loss and what the term ‘rainbow baby’ means to her.

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    For many people, the loss of a baby leaves them feeling shocked, isolated and empty. It is difficult in this traumatic time to realise that later, you may treasure the memories of your baby you create. Mary shares her experience of spending time and making memories with her stillborn daughter, Alana.

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