Finding ways of preventing preterm labour

Jane Norman, Philippa Saunders, Ashley Boyle

Drugs normally used to prevent heart disease may delay preterm birth.

Often, early labour can be caused by infection or inflammation of the womb. Inflammation is often a result of infection: if we can find a way of preventing the inflammation, then we may be able to stop or delay preterm birth. Tommy’s are funding a PhD student, Ashlely Boyle, to find new ways of preventing early labour. Currently, the project is looking at statins – drugs normally used to prevent heart disease – and how they could be used to delay preterm birth.

Scientists have studied how mice react to bacterial infection in the womb after being given statins. When mice were infected but not given statins, they delivered much earlier than normal. However, mice that were given statins before being infected did not give birth early. In fact, they gave birth around the same time as mice that were not infected, or given statins.

Scientists also looked at how statins affect inflammation. They used human cells from the muscle of the womb and infected them. Some of these cells were also treated with a statin. Cells that were treated with a statin showed differences in how active certain genes were. Genes that are usually linked to inflammation were much less active compared to cells that had not been treated with statins. Meanwhile, genes that fight inflammation were much more active. Statins also appear to stop womb muscle cells from contracting.

The results so far suggest that we might be able to use statins to delay or prevent premature birth, giving the baby the best chance at a healthy life. 

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.


This study is fully funded by Tommy's and takes place in a Tommy's centre

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