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.

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