Research into premature birth

Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.

Premature or preterm birth is when a baby is born before 37 full weeks of pregnancy. It is the leading cause of newborn deaths worldwide, and the second major cause of deaths in young children. Globally, more than 1 in 10 pregnancies end in premature birth – around 15 million babies every year.

Research is vital so that we can understand which women are likely to go into labour early, and help them carry their baby for as long as possible. Tommy’s support cutting-edge work on the causes and prevention of premature birth through our centres in both London and Edinburgh. Clinics at both centres care for mums at risk of preterm birth.

Here are some of our recent highlights:

  • Researchers have found that levels of a protein called elafin could be used to tell which women are most at risk of going into early labour.
  • We are helping women around the world have healthy pregnancies by trialling a cheap, easy-to-use saliva test that can tell how likely a woman is to give birth prematurely.
  • The SUPPORT trial is the first ever clinical study comparing the effectiveness of three different treatments in preventing premature birth in women with a shortened cervix.
  • We are collaborating with Health Protection Scotland to find out if the HPV vaccine lowers rates of premature birth.
  • We are building a tool that can tell how likely a woman is to go into premature labour, so we can focus on women who really need help.
  • Scientists have found that drugs normally used to prevent heart disease may delay preterm birth.

Individual premature birth research projects

Why our research is needed

  • Clinician scanning a pregnant woman

    The London Preterm (premature birth) Surveillance Clinic

    This unique Preterm Surveillance Clinic – funded by Tommy's as part of our research in St Thomas' Hospital, London, has won an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize, for its success in reducing the number of premature births in South East London.

  • researcher looking at samples in the Tommy's London centre

    Tommy's London research centre

    Tommy’s prematurity research centre in London is based at St Thomas’ Hospital, where the charity first began. Opened in 1995, it is the first Maternal and Fetal Research Unit in the UK.

  • Pre-term birth statistics

    Premature birth statistics

    A preterm birth, one that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, is the number one cause of newborn deaths and the second leading cause of deaths in children under five.

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