Testing for microRNAs to find out when the placenta isn’t working

Scientists are looking to see if fragments of DNA-like material in a mother’s blood could be used as a sensitive test to find women at risk of stillbirth.

Many women who suffer stillbirths have placentas that weren’t working as well as they should. A lot of research has tried to find ways of testing blood samples to tell when a placenta isn’t doing its job. This has usually focused on finding certain proteins that act as “markers” of disease. However, so far no test has been found that works.

We are looking at something a little different to try and solve this problem. Instead of searching for proteins, Tommy’s researchers are seeing if testing for small fragments of DNA-like material – called microRNAs – could work instead. At the moment, doctors use this approach to diagnose certain types of cancer.

Scientists found that several types of microRNA in the blood and placenta were at different levels in pregnancies at high risk of stillbirth. We think that we could one day use these to create a sensitive test that will be able to tell when a woman is at risk of stillbirth. We are also trying to find out whether these microRNAs play a role in causing the placenta to stop working. 


Dr Bernadette Baker, Dr Rebecca Jones, Professor Alexander Heazell, Dr Sylvia Lui

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

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