Why do we need this research?
The effects of premature birth can be devastating. When a baby is born too soon, it has not finished developing and is not ready for life outside the womb. This means the baby may die or have serious health problems.
Infection is a cause of premature birth
Women who give birth to babies very early (before 34 weeks) often have a mild infection in their vagina. When infection is present, the cells of the vagina release small round packages called exosomes, which carry ‘biological messages’ to tell nearby cells about the infection.
Our researchers think that this process could be linked to premature birth, although we don’t know enough about how this works.
What’s happening in this project?
By looking at samples of vaginal fluid, scientists funded by Tommy’s have already found 25 different biological messages carried in the exosomes of women who go on to give birth prematurely.
Our scientists are now going to study these exosomes in much more detail. They’ll compare the exosomes found in early pregnancy from women who give birth prematurely, with those from women who give birth at term, to see if they could be used to predict the risk of premature birth. The team are also going to look at how these exosomes change the behaviour of vaginal cells grown in the laboratory.
What difference will this project make?
By studying exosomes, our researchers hope to identify a biological fingerprint in vaginal fluid that can be used early in pregnancy to predict whether a woman is likely to give birth prematurely. This could help doctors to intervene early and reduce the number of babies born too soon.