The role of glutamine and glutamate in fetal growth restriction

The amino acids, glutamine and glutamate, are needed to make sure that babies grow properly. Our researchers want to find out whether we can improve the way some placentas transfer these important nutrients to babies so that we can develop new treatments to prevent poor growth and stillbirth.

Start: September 2019

End: August 2020

Babies whose growth slows or stops in the womb are more likely to be stillborn, and 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, a problem with the way the placenta is working is a very common reason 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. We have found that the placentas of babies who are smaller than expected are not as good as normal placentas at transferring these amino acids to the baby. 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.

To do this, we want to see if we can improve the function of a signalling pathway – called the mTOR pathway – in cells taken from the placenta. A signalling pathway is a process by which a chain of molecules in a cell pass messages between themselves to make something happen, such as cell division or cell death.

We know that there is a reduction in the amount of glutamine and glutamate that the placenta takes in when the mTOR pathway is not working, and we want to find out if we can reverse this in the lab by reactivating the pathway. This should help us to better understand why some placentas are not very good at transferring these vital nutrients to the baby, and help us to find new treatments to overcome this problem.

Information and support about fetal growth restriction

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?'

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 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.

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    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

    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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