Understanding how the womb lining matures during pre-eclampsia

Dr Elizabeth Mann, Professor John Aplin

Pre-eclampsia can lead to health problems and sometimes stillbirth, but we don’t know enough about what causes it. Our researchers are studying how the lining of the womb develops during early pregnancy. This could reveal new ways to prevent pre-eclampsia and reduce the risk of stillbirth.

Start: September 2020

End: September 2022

Why do we need this research?

Pre-eclampsia affects up to 6% of pregnancies in the UK. Occasionally, pre‑eclampsia can result in severe health problems which can threaten the life of both mother and baby. However, there are currently no treatments to cure pre-eclampsia, and in severe cases, the only option is to deliver the baby prematurely

We need to understand pre-eclampsia better so that we can develop new ways to treat it and reduce the risks for mother and baby.

What’s happening in this project?

During early pregnancy, the lining of the womb matures in preparation for the embryo. Researchers are discovering that problems with this maturation process may play a role in pre-eclampsia. Our scientists now want to look at what happens in this maturation process, and why it might be going wrong.

The team are focussing on two types of cells in the lining of the womb. One group are ‘stromal cells’ which support the normal function of the womb. The other are cells of the immune system, which move into the womb lining during early pregnancy.

Our researchers think that the communication between these stromal and immune cells during early pregnancy is crucial while the womb lining is maturing. They also think that a breakdown in communication between these two cell types is what’s contributing to pre-eclampsia.

In this project, the team are studying the stromal and immune cells taken from samples of placenta and womb donated by women at various stages of pregnancy, some who have experienced pre‑eclampsia. They will identify how the cells communicate with each other, and whether this changes during pre‑eclampsia.

What difference will this project make?

Our researchers believe that this project will enable a “step-change in our understanding of pre‑eclampsia”. They hope that their work could lead to new treatments for the condition, and reduce the risk of complications and stillbirth. 

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