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?'
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.
In addition to our core work on miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and pre-eclampsia, Tommy’s also funds projects that research the effects of lifestyle and well-being on pregnancy and on the later life of the child.
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.
Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.
1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 in 100 women have 3 or more miscarriages in a row. Research into this area of pregnancy loss has been underfunded for years.
"After all, the pain of pushing your body through a run is nothing in comparison to losing a child but it is my personal outlet and way to honour my son’s memory."
The midwife said: 'Maybe he is turned in a funny position', but we waited and still she couldn’t find the heartbeat.
When it comes down to it, I would never have got anywhere near completing my challenge had it not been for Tommy's, the amazing cause and those they have touched.
Looking back now I realise that my experiences have taught me some valuable lessons. That strength does not have to mean silence; being brave can involve tears and that these babies are chapters of my story.