Using statins to prevent brain injury during premature birth

Premature birth can lead to health problems for the baby, including brain injury. Our researchers are looking into whether statins – drugs that prevent heart disease – could also be used to prevent brain injury in premature babies.
  • Authors list

    Professor Jane Norman, Dr Sarah Stock, Dr Eleanor Whitaker

    Start date: April 2018
    End date: October 2020

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Completed projects

This project took place at our Edinburgh centre which operated between 2008 and 2021.

Why do we need this research?

One of the potential complications linked to premature birth is injury to the baby’s brain. This can have a huge impact on the baby’s wellbeing after birth. It is therefore crucial that we find better treatments that can prevent babies’ brains being damaged by premature birth.

What happened in this project?

Researchers believe that the brain injuries that can result from premature birth are caused by inflammation in the brain. Previous research has shown that anti-inflammatory drugs called statins – normally used to prevent heart disease – could prevent brain injury in babies during pregnancy. For example, early studies have shown that statins can prevent brain injury in lab models of pre-eclampsia.

Our scientists think that statins could prevent brain injury during premature birth. However, before this can be tested in pregnant women, the idea needs to be investigated further in the lab. To do this, the team first had to develop a new way of giving drugs to pregnant mice. Their initial approach – to inject the mice with a statin called simvastatin – proved to be unreliable, and so the team instead dissolved either simvastatin or pravastatin into flavoured jellies and trained the mice to eat them. The team wanted to test whether these statins could protect the pups from brain injuries caused by premature birth but, unfortunately, the lab work had to be stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What difference will this project make?

While it was not possible to test whether statins prevent brain injuries in mouse pups that were born prematurely, our researchers did develop a new way of giving these drugs to mice. The team hope to continue their work in the future so that they can gather the evidence needed to begin a clinical trial of statins in pregnant women at risk of premature birth.

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