Understanding the link between inflammation, the placenta and stillbirth

Following earlier work funded by Tommy’s, the Medical Research Council is supporting research in Tommy’s Manchester Centre to try and find out if preventing inflammation in the placenta could stop stillbirths.

Through work funded by Tommy’s, we already know that inflammation of the placenta can directly cause stillbirth. Researchers showed that inflammation is related to the placenta not working properly in pregnant women who noticed their babies were moving less than normal. They also found that chemical signals involved in inflammation were higher several days before birth. This means that these signals could be used to tell early on if inflammation is present and the baby may be in danger. The inflammatory signals also had a direct effect on the placenta: in the future, drugs could be designed to target these signals, protecting the placenta and the baby.

Following Tommy’s work, the Medical Research Council has now funded a study to tell us once and for all if and how inflammation causes damage to the placenta, and to find the link between inflammation and stillbirth.

Researchers will look at samples of blood and placenta from around 70 women at high risk of stillbirth – those whose babies weigh much less than normal. They will check the samples for known signs that the placenta isn’t working, as well as looking for new signals that might be causing inflammation.

By understanding these relationships, we will be able to find out if using drugs to try and stop placental inflammation may be a way to prevent stillbirths in the future.  


Dr Bernadette Baker, Dr Rebecca Jones, Dr Sylvie Girard, Dr Alexander Heazell, Professor Colin Sibley, Vikki Abrahams

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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by the Medical Research Council

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