Start: March 2015
End: March 2020
Why do we need this research?
One cause of an unhealthy placenta is a rare condition called chronic histiocytic intervillositis (CHI). This is when the immune system rejects the placenta as if it was an ‘alien’ object in the body. CHI can increase the risk of stillbirths and miscarriages in subsequent pregnancies. However, there is currently no way to diagnose CHI during pregnancy, only after birth.
What’s happening in this project?
At the Manchester Tommy’s centre, our scientists have developed an exciting new way of looking at the placenta while the baby is growing. It uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI, a technique that uses a strong magnetic field to look inside the body. It allows us to see how the body is working in far more detail than ultrasound.
Previously, while using MRI to study a group of women experiencing fetal growth restriction, the team noticed that one mother’s placenta looked different to the others. The mother was later diagnosed with CHI, which led the research team to speculate that it might be possible to use MRI to diagnose CHI early.
The researchers are now working to confirm this chance finding. They will conduct a small study of 20 pregnant women experiencing fetal growth restriction, including those who potentially have CHI. Their placentas will be studied during pregnancy using MRI as well as after birth.
What difference will this project make?
This research will provide the evidence needed for a larger clinical trial to use MRI to detect problems with the placenta. If the team’s findings can be confirmed, it could lead to new ways to diagnose CHI and other placental problems much earlier than is currently possible. This could mean that women could receive the most appropriate treatment for them, and ultimately reduce the risk of their babies being stillborn.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss.
More research projects
A BBC News investigation has found that some private baby scanning studios are misleading customers by advertising “reassurance” scans that do not diagnose serious conditions and abnormalities.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.