Inhibiting microRNAs in the placenta to reduce the risk of stillbirth

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

Start: August 2019

End: July 2020

Why do we need this research?

Stillbirth is often caused by problems with how the placenta is working. This means 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. This would help these babies grow as they should, and reduce the risk of stillbirth and improve lifelong health.

Getting medicine to the placenta in pregnancy

It can be difficult to get drugs to the placenta without harming the baby. Researchers funded by Tommy’s recently found a way to make sure that medicines are delivered straight to the placenta, by using small molecules called ‘homing peptides’. When these peptides are injected into the bloodstream of pregnant mice, they attach only to the surface of the placenta and not to any other organ. Our researchers are now combining these peptides with new drugs to see if we can make the placenta healthier.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, in order to find new drugs that could be combined with their homing peptides, our researchers are looking at microRNAs (miRNAs). These tiny molecules are found inside the cells of the placenta and help to control how it grows and works. However, we know that the actions of some miRNAs can be linked to problems with the placenta. So our researchers want to find out if it’s possible to use drugs to block these miRNAs and stop them from working.

Our scientists will first use samples of placentas donated by women to find out if there are specific miRNAs that are seen more often in placentas that are failing compared to healthy placentas. They will then create new drugs that can stop these miRNAs working, and combine them with a homing peptide so that they can be delivered straight to the placenta.

Finally, the team will test these new drugs in the lab on placenta samples. These experiments will test how effective these drugs are at blocking the miRNAs and so treating placental disease.

What difference will this project make?

This project will identify new potential treatments for problems with the placenta, and test whether these could be delivered safely. Ultimately, this work could lead to new ways to help babies grow as they should, helping to prevent stillbirths.

Join the fight against baby loss

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. W

If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here

More about Tommy's research

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    Research into health and wellbeing in pregnancy

    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.

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    Research into stillbirth

    When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Nearly 3000 families a year get the devastating news that their baby is not alive. Our research is helping to change this.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    Research into premature birth

    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.

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    Research into miscarriage

    Miscarriage is the most common complication of pregnancy with 1 in 4 women experiencing at least 1 miscarriage during their reproductive lifetime. This is a quarter of all mothers-to-be, a quarter of all families affected by loss.

Read stillbirth stories

  • Story

    We travelled to our son’s funeral in the car, a tiny coffin between us

    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

  • Story

    Finding strength in vulnerability

    “My experience of baby loss has given me a new definition of self, a new way of seeing, and a new love – one so strong that it made saying hello and goodbye in the same day worth all the pain.”

  • Story

    Our Rainbow

    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.

  • A baby who was stillborn in a crib surrounded by photos and a teddy


    Being physically close with my baby made the loss much more bearable

    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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