Inhibiting microRNAs in the placenta to reduce the risk of stillbirth

Our researchers are looking for new treatments to help failing placentas so that we can make sure babies grow properly and reduce the risk of stillbirth.

Start: September 2019

End: August 2020

Stillbirth  often happens as a result of a problem with how the placenta is working, meaning that babies do not get the nutrients and oxygen they need to grow properly in the womb. We want to find safe treatments that can make the placenta more effective and help these babies grow as they should, in order to reduce the risk of stillbirth and improve lifelong health.

Getting medicine to the baby in pregnancy

It is very difficult to get drugs to the placenta without harming the baby. We recently found a way to make sure that medicines are delivered straight to the placenta, by using small molecules called placental homing peptides. When these peptides are injected into the bloodstream of pregnant mice, they bind only to the surface of the placenta and not to any other organ. We are now combining these peptides with new drugs to see if we can make the placenta work more effectively.

In order to find new drugs that could be combined with our placental homing peptides, we want to look at microRNAs (miRNAs). These are small molecules that are found inside cells in the placenta, which help to control its growth and function. We know that the actions of some miRNAs can be linked to problems with the placenta, and we want to find out if it’s possible to use medicines to stop these miRNAs from working.

We will first find out if there are specific miRNAs that are seen more often in placentas that are failing, compared with healthy placentas. We will then create new drugs that can stop these miRNAs working, and combine them with a placental homing peptide so that they can be delivered straight to the placenta.

Finally, we will test these new drugs in the lab to see how effective they are at treating placental disease, and if they have the potential to prevent stillbirth.

The terrible effect of stillbirth

Stillbirth is devastating for families. We have been gathering testimony about the terrible effect of stillbirth on parents and wider family to raise awareness and make the case that more must be done to bring down the statistics.

'We sat on the bed laughing and joking, pushing the worry away. The midwife seemed to be away for ages. When she returned we were taken to a scan room to be scanned. As we walked in the room I knew something wasn’t right as there were three people in the room already. I nervously lay on the bed and after a few minutes the doctor turned to me and said, ‘I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat.’

'Those words still make me feel sick to my stomach. I just remember screaming and screaming. I looked to David who sat with his head in his hands. I eventually managed to stop screaming and sat and cried uncontrollably. How could this have happened?'

Shelley, whose baby Joseph was stillborn at 37 weeks

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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