Inhibiting microRNAs in the placenta to reduce the risk of stillbirth

Our researchers are looking for new treatments for failing placentas so that we can make sure babies grow properly and reduce the risk of stillbirth.
  • Author's list

    Dr Lynda Harris, Dr Christina Coll, Dr Karen Forbes, Professor Alexander Heazell

    Start date: August 2019
    End date: January 2020

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Completed projects

Why do we need this research?

Stillbirth is often caused by problems with how the placenta is working. This means that babies do not get the nutrients and oxygen they need to grow properly in the womb.

We want to find safe treatments that can make the placenta more effective. This would help these babies grow as they should, reducing the risk of stillbirth and improving lifelong health.

Getting medicine to the placenta in pregnancy

It can be difficult to get drugs to the placenta without harming the baby. Tommy’s researchers recently found a way to make sure that medicines are delivered straight to the placenta using small molecules called ‘homing peptides’. When these peptides are injected into the bloodstream of pregnant mice, they attach only to the surface of the placenta and not to any other organ. Our researchers are now combining these peptides with new drugs to see if we can make the placenta healthier.

What’s happening in this project?

In order to find new drugs that could be combined with these homing peptides, our researchers have been looking at microRNAs (miRNAs). These tiny molecules are found inside the cells of the placenta and help to control how it grows and works. However, the actions of some miRNAs can be linked to problems with the placenta, so our researchers wanted to find out if it’s possible to use drugs to block these miRNAs and stop them from working.

In this project, our scientists compared donated placentas from healthy pregnancies with those from pregnancies in which the baby was not growing as it should. The researchers found that there are specific miRNAs that are found more often in the failing placentas, and some that are found less often. As some of these miRNAs are responsible for making sure the placenta functions and develops correctly, the team think that it may be possible to make the placenta work better by targeting some of these miRNAs.

The team will now start work on a new project to find out more about these miRNAs, with the ultimate aim of creating new drugs that could be combined with a homing peptide so that they can be delivered straight to the placenta.

What difference will this project make?

This project has identified specific miRNAs that seem to be associated with placentas that are failing. By targeting these miRNAs, it may be possible to develop new treatments for problems with the placenta, potentially providing doctors with new ways to help babies grow as they should in order to try and prevent stillbirth.