The Preterm Trials Consortium: using long-term trials to answer difficult questions

Tommy’s is setting up a platform that will help researchers study premature birth more effectively.
  • Author's list

    Professor Andrew Shennan, Dr Jenny Carter, Dr Helena Watson, Professor Rachel Tribe

    Start date: 2016
    End date: Ongoing

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

Research into premature birth is a tricky task. To get results that you can trust, large numbers of people need to be included and this can mean that trials need to go on for a long time. For example, Tommy’s recently supported the MAVRIC study that showed that the abdominal stitch helped women with a weak cervix carry their babies to full term. But this study took eight years. 

In the case of the MAVRIC study, it was hard to recruit women to the trial for two reasons. Firstly, many doctors were strongly either for or against the abdominal stitch and did not want to take part. Secondly, the women that were included had very high-risk pregnancies and were relatively rare.

If an illness is rare, or it is difficult to find people to take part in research, it can be hard to test which treatments work best. To make things harder, a lot of research funding is given for relatively short periods of time; often too short to find meaningful answers or understand long-term effects.

Tommy’s wants this to change.

What’s happening in this project?

To make research into premature birth more achievable, our researchers have set up the Preterm Trials Consortium (PTC). The consortium is a collaboration between many research centres (17 so far, including two in Spain) that has been designed to help researchers carry out lots of different studies in large numbers of women. By setting this up, scientists can begin to address the many unanswered questions surrounding premature birth.

As part of the PTC, our researchers have created a database where information from women who take part in clinical trials or attend Preterm Surveillance Clinics can be stored and shared with scientists around the world. The PTC database went live in December 2016, and so far nearly 4,500 women have given permission for their data to be stored on the platform. Most of these women have also consented to long-term follow-up of their baby’s health. Anonymous data has also been collected from over 4,500 women who previously gave birth after attending a Preterm Surveillance Clinic. 

What difference will this project make?

The Preterm Trials Consortium will enable high-quality long-term research to take place. This is necessary to answer some of the big questions we still have about premature birth, such as:

  • If the cervical stitch can help women who have bulging membranes;
  • When to remove the cervical stitch in women whose waters have broken;
  • The best way to deliver a premature baby that is positioned to come out feet first.

The answers to these questions will enable us to improve the care given to women who are at risk of premature birth and help stop babies being born too early.

Get our research updates

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.