Finding ways of preventing preterm labour

Jane Norman, Philippa Saunders, Ashley Boyle

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

This research study is now complete

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 researchers are looking at 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.

Furthermore, there was no effect of statins on the structure of the lungs and the study found no harmful effects of the statin treatment on mouse fetal lung development. These results can inform future studies investigating the use of statins for mothers who are at high risk of preterm birth to prevent early delivery and improve infant outcomes.

Timing

2015-2018

Research paper

A. K. Boyle, S. F. Rinaldi, A. G. Rossi, P. T. K. Saunders and J. E. Norman. Repurposing simvastatin as a therapy for preterm labour: evidence from preclinical models. FASEB J in press.

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Funding

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

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