The role of glutamine and glutamate in fetal growth restriction

Dr Mark Dilworth, Dr Susan Greenwood, Dr Michelle Desforges, Dr Kirsty McIntyre, Christina Coll, Turki Alharthi

Babies need the amino acids glutamine and glutamate to grow properly. Our researchers want to find out whether we can improve the way some placentas transfer these important nutrients to babies. This will help us to develop new treatments to prevent poor growth and stillbirth.

Start: September 2018

End: September 2022

Why do we need this research?

Babies whose growth slows or stops in the womb are more likely to be stillborn. Those that do survive have a higher chance of developing heart disease and diabetes in the future.

Because the placenta supplies nutrients to the baby to help it grow, any problems with the placenta can mean that babies do not grow properly.

We want to find out more about what causes the placenta to fail, so that we can find treatments that could reduce the risk of stillbirth and improve the health of children as they grow up.

Placentas of growth restricted babies found to be less effective

Glutamine and glutamate are amino acids – building blocks for proteins – that are needed to make sure that babies grow properly. Our researchers have previously found that the placentas of babies who are smaller than expected aren’t as good at transferring these amino acids to the baby as normal placentas.

If we can make the placenta better at transferring glutamine and glutamate, we may be able to enhance a baby’s growth and reduce the risk of stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

To do this, researchers funded by Tommy’s are studying the activity of something called the ‘mTOR pathway’ in cells taken from the placenta. The mTOR pathway is a process by which messages get passed inside a cell to make something happen.

Previously, researchers have found that when the mTOR pathway is not working, the placenta can’t take in as much glutamine and glutamate as normal. Our researchers are now doing experiments in the lab to find out if, by reactivating the mTOR pathway, they can make the placenta cells better at absorbing these vital nutrients.

What difference will this project make?

The results of this project will help our researchers understand why some placentas are not very good at transferring nutrients to the baby. This could lead us to find new treatments to overcome this problem, ensuring that babies grow normally and so reduce the risk of stillbirth.

 

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

  • Three pregnant women sitting in a row

    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.

  • Team of researchers

    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.

  • Clinical researcher looking at test tube

    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

    Story

    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.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No