Why do we need this research?
In the UK, 1 in 5 women who give birth are over 35, and 1 in 25 are over 40. Women over 35 are at higher risk of stillbirth or of having babies that do not grow properly in the womb, and these complications are even more likely in women over 40.
We know that placentas from older women age faster than those from younger women. Placental cells are also under more stress; they are less able to repair damage and show signs of inflammation. We think that these factors might stop the placenta working properly, making it more difficult for the baby to get the oxygen and nutrients that it needs.
Scientists think that melatonin – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory hormone that normally plays a part in controlling our sleep patterns – might help improve pregnancy outcomes for older women. Our researchers have already shown that older pregnant mice who are treated with melatonin in the second half of pregnancy have fewer stillbirths and bigger babies. Now they want to find out more.
What’s happening in this project?
In this project, Tommy’s researchers are carrying out experiments in the lab to help them understand how melatonin alters the placentas of these older pregnant mice and why this leads to improved pregnancy outcomes. The team will also find out what happens if they give melatonin to older mice earlier in pregnancy. The mice will be given melatonin 5.5 days into their pregnancy, which corresponds to around 12 weeks in a human pregnancy. The team will check to see whether treatment with melatonin reduces the number of stillbirths, and whether the pups grow bigger than they otherwise would. They also want to find out how much melatonin they should give and how often it needs to be given.
What difference will this project make?
If this study shows that melatonin treatment early in pregnancy reduces the number of older mice who have stillbirths or pups that do not grow as they should, then it is possible that melatonin could also be used to improve pregnancy outcomes for older women. Our researchers hope that this project could provide them with the foundations needed to begin a clinical trial of melatonin therapy in pregnant women over 40.