Targeting microRNAs in the placenta to find new treatments for stillbirth

Our researchers want to find out more about some of the tiny molecules present in placentas from pregnancies where the baby did not grow as it should, in the hope that they can find new treatments that help babies grow properly and reduce the risk of stillbirth.
  • Author's list

    Dr Lynda Harris, Dr Karen Forbes, Dr Bernadette Baker, Professor Alexander Heazell

    Start date: April 2021
    End date: March 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 either more or less often in placentas from pregnancies where the baby did not grow properly, compared with healthy placentas. We now want to find out more about these miRNAs so that we can try and develop new drugs that improve outcomes for women whose placentas are failing.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, Tommy’s researchers will look at a large number of donated placentas so that they can confirm which miRNAs seem to be associated with a failing placenta. By comparing with healthy placentas, the team will find out which miRNAs are found more often in placentas from pregnancies where the baby did not grow as it should, and which are found less often.

Next, our researchers plan on finding out whether they can use these miRNAs to make failing placentas work better. Working in the lab, the team will treat tissue from both healthy and failing placentas with molecules that either mimic or inhibit specific miRNAs to see whether they can improve the survival and behaviour of the cells in the placenta. If the team find that any of these molecules improve how well the placenta is working, they could then be combined with placental homing peptides – small molecules that bind only to the surface of the placenta – to create drugs that are delivered straight to where they are needed.

What difference will this project make?

This project will help 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 whose placentas are failing so that we can make sure their babies grow as they should and help to prevent stillbirth.