The role of mechanobiology in spontaneous premature birth

Our researchers are using mechanobiology – an emerging field of science that explores how physical forces affect the function of cells within the body – to find out more about the causes of premature birth.
  • Researchers

    Dr Lara Morley, Professor David Beech, Dr Marjolaine Debant, Professor Nigel Simpson, Dr Tina Chowdhury

    Start date: September 2023

Why do we need this research?

The ways in which the womb and the neck of the womb (the cervix) prepare for and bring about birth are not well understood. The womb must change from a relaxed, stretchable muscle into one that contracts regularly; the cervix from a closed, rigid structure into one that softens and opens up to allow the baby to be born. Both the cervix and the womb interact with and are influenced by the fetal membranes – the bag of waters surrounding the baby – which commonly break before or during birth. Our researchers think that the ways in which the womb and membranes can sense force – stretch and pressure – are important to make sure a pregnancy continues to full term. If sensing of stretch and pressure goes wrong, this could bring about premature birth

What are the aims of this project?

Our researchers are using mechanobiology – a new field of science that combines biology, physics and bioengineering – to find out more about the causes of premature birth. In particular, the team will look at a force-detecting sensor called Piezo1, which is found in the muscle of the womb and is known to be important in pregnancy. By taking womb tissue samples from women and birthing people who give birth by caesarean section (either at full term or prematurely), the team will be able to work out whether Piezo1 is involved in premature birth.

What difference will this project make?

The link between force-detecting sensors in the womb and the onset of labour has not been studied before. By carrying out this research, we will find out more about how forces trigger birth not only at full term, but also when birth occurs too soon. This knowledge could help us develop new ways of preventing premature birth in the future.