Understanding the causes of stillbirth by studying the placenta

Professor Alexander Heazell, Alan Kerby

We still don’t know enough about the changes in the placenta which lead to stillbirth. In this project, our researchers are using cutting-edge techniques to study the placenta. This will help doctors in the future to give parents whose baby has died the answers they need.

Start: October 2020

End: March 2021

Why do we need this research?

In all too many cases when a baby is stillborn there is no obvious cause. These baby’s deaths remain ‘unexplained’, which can be very hard for grieving parents who want to know why their baby has died.

One of the ways that pathologists investigate the causes of stillbirth is by looking at the placenta. However, we don’t know enough about the changes in the placenta that can lead to stillbirth. This means that even after an investigation, the parents still have no explanation for their baby’s death.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, our researchers want to use new techniques to study the placenta of babies who are stillborn. They hope that this will reveal new information about the placenta, which could give more parents the answers they need about why their baby died.

The team will collect samples of placentas donated by parents whose babies were stillborn. For some of the stillbirths, the cause of death will be known. By studying the placenta under the microscope, our scientists aim to identify changes to the placenta which are associated with different causes of death. They will use computer software to analyse the microscope images, to reveal patterns which are not obvious to the human eye. Finally, the team will look at placentas where the cause of stillbirth is not explained, to see if the same changes are present in them.

What difference will this project make?

By using cutting-edge techniques to study the placenta after stillbirth, this research could mean that more parents in the future get an explanation for why their baby was stillborn. It will also help scientists understand stillbirth better, which could lead to new ways to prevent it from happening.

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