Preventing stillbirth: the role of the immune system in rejecting the placenta

Looking to identify and manage chronic histiocytic intervillositis – a condition in which the mother’s immune system rejects the placenta, leading to stillbirth or miscarriage.

Start: September 2018

End: August 2022

Chronic histiocytic intervillositis (CHI) is a rare condition in which the mother’s immune system does not accept the placenta in the womb. If a woman has suffered from CHI in a previous pregnancy then it can happen again in subsequent pregnancies, putting her at risk of multiple stillbirths or miscarriages.

We want to know more about the causes of CHI so that we can better identify, manage and prevent the condition. We have already found that most pregnant women with CHI have antibodies that are unusual. Antibodies are molecules that recognise substances in the body as ‘alien’ and tell the immune system to attack them, so these unusual antibodies could be the reason that the mother rejects the placenta.

We now want to find out more about these unusual antibodies, so that we can create a screening tool that would help us work out which women are at risk of stillbirth, either during their pregnancy or even before they conceive.

These women could then receive immunosuppressive therapy to help prevent the loss of their baby. In the future, it may even be possible to develop new therapies that stop these unusual antibodies from working in order to reduce the incidence of stillbirth.

 
 

The devastating 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.

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. Around 3,500 families a year get the devastating news that their baby is not alive. Our research is helping to change this.

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    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

    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.

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