Targeting microRNAs in the placenta to find new treatments for stillbirth

Our researchers want to find out more about some of the tiny molecules that are present in the placenta in the hope that they can find new treatments that help babies grow properly and reduce the risk of stillbirth.
  • Authors list

    Dr Lynda Harris, Frances Beards, Dr Karen Forbes, Dr Bo Baker, Professor Alexander Heazell

    Start date: 2021
    End date: 2022

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

When the placenta is failing, the baby inside the womb cannot get the nutrients and oxygen that it needs. This can stop the baby from growing as it should and is also thought to be the leading cause of​​​​​​​ stillbirth. We urgently need new treatments that can remedy this, so that we can reduce the risk of stillbirth and improve lifelong health.

Tommy’s researchers have already shown that microRNAs (miRNAs) can be linked to problems with the placenta. These tiny molecules are found inside the cells of the placenta and help to control how it grows and works. Our researchers have shown that there are​​​​​​​ specific miRNAs that are seen at different levels in failing placentas compared to healthy placentas and want to find out more.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, Tommy’s researchers looked in more detail at a large number of donated placentas that were failing before birth. By comparing with placentas from healthy pregnancies, the team found three miRNAs they think are important – these miRNAs were detected at different levels in the failing placentas than in the healthy placentas and are known to influence how well the placenta is working.

The team next carried out experiments in the lab to see if they could alter the levels of these miRNAs to make the placenta work better. To do this, our researchers treated tissue from both healthy and failing placentas with molecules that either mimicked or inhibited each miRNA and found they could substantially change the levels of these miRNAs in the placenta cells. They are now examining their data to find out whether the survival and behaviour of these placenta cells also improved in their experiments. If the team find that any of these molecules improve how well the placenta is working, they would then like to combine them with placental homing peptides – small molecules that bind only to the surface of the placenta and deliver drugs right where they are needed – to make potential new treatments that would first be tested in animals.

What difference will this project make?

This project is helping us understand more about the miRNAs that are linked to problems with the placenta. Using this information, it may be possible to develop new treatments to help women and birthing people whose placentas are failing so that we can make sure their babies grow as they should and help to prevent stillbirth.