The role of placental blood vessels in growth restriction and stillbirth

Professor John Aplin, Nyree Sardena, Professor Melissa Westwood, Dr Adam Stevens, Professor Ed Johnstone

We want to find out why the placentas from babies who grow slowly have a smaller network of blood vessels than healthy placentas.

Start: September 2018

End: September 2022

Why do we need this research?

Babies who don’t grow as they should in the womb are at greater risk of being stillborn. One of the main reasons that a baby might not grow properly is because the placenta is failing. When this happens, the baby can’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive and grow in the womb.

The placenta contains a network of blood vessels which absorb nutrients and oxygen and carry them to the baby. Our researchers have found that babies who do not grow properly have placentas with a smaller network of blood vessels than normal. However, we don’t know why this happens.

We need to understand why the blood vessel network is smaller in these placentas, to develop new treatments which could prevent stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

Researchers funded by Tommy’s are looking more closely at the placenta to find out what affect the growth and survival of the cells that make up blood vessels.

They are starting by looking at the activity of genes inside the placentas. Genes are short sections of DNA which provide cells with instructions for how they should behave. So far, by studying the placentas of slow-growing babies, they have found that blood vessel genes are less active. The team are now investigating why this is the case, and what effect this has on the blood vessel network in placentas. They think it might be that the blood vessels are not communicating effectively with other cells nearby.

What difference will this project make?

By better understanding the blood vessels in placentas, our researchers hope their work could lead to new treatments that improve blood flow to babies. This could help babies to grow as they should and 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.

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Read stillbirth stories

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    Like many others in my position, I questioned myself – was it something I had done?

    Hayley and Martin from West Yorkshire fell pregnant with their first child, Ike, in February 2019. Sadly, their son was stillborn at 26 weeks. Hayley and Martin never found out the cause of Ike’s death, making it even harder to come to terms with their loss. This is their story.

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    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

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    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.”

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    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.

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