Understanding why the cervix sometimes shortens too soon

Our researchers are finding out more about the causes of cervical shortening so that they can work out better ways of treating it and preventing premature birth.
  • Researchers

    Professor Phillip Bennett, Professor David MacIntyre, collaboration between all institutions at Tommy's National Centre for Preterm Birth Research

Why do we need this research?

Sometimes the neck of the womb (the cervix) shortens too soon during pregnancy, which can lead to premature birth. Doctors do not always know why this happens. At the moment, women and birthing people who are at risk of premature birth receive transvaginal ultrasound scans to measure the length of their cervix during pregnancy. If these scans show that the cervix is shortening when it shouldn’t be, women and birthing people may be offered a cervical stitch (also known as a cerclage or cervical suture) or hormone treatment (such as progesterone) to stop their baby being born too soon. However, these treatments do not prevent premature birth in every person. We need to understand more about why the cervix shortens so that we can develop better treatments.

What are the aims of this project?

In this project, our researchers will find out more about the causes of cervical shortening. To do this, they will collect information – before treatment has started and during the rest of pregnancy – about pregnant women and birthing people whose cervixes are shown to be shortening too soon. The research team want to look at the whole person, so as well as taking samples from the vagina and the cervix, they will check for other mental and physical health conditions that could be playing a part. The team will use this information to understand whether there are particular causes of early cervical shortening that are more or less likely to respond to treatment. 

What difference will this project make?

As well as helping us understand which women and birthing people with a short cervix are likely to be helped by the treatments that are currently available, this research will give us information about who might respond to new treatments that are being developed. We will also learn more about what monitoring should be offered to pregnant women and people who are at risk of premature birth.