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.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. W
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More research projects
A BBC News investigation has found that some private baby scanning studios are misleading customers by advertising “reassurance” scans that do not diagnose serious conditions and abnormalities.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
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.
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.