Understanding the causes of stillbirth by studying the placenta

We still don’t know enough about the changes in the placenta that lead to stillbirth. In this project, our researchers are using cutting-edge techniques to study the placenta and find out more. This will mean that, in the future, doctors can give parents the answers they need about why their baby died.
  • Author's list

    Professor Alexander Heazell, Dr Alan Kerby, Dr Gauri Batra, Dr Nicole Graham

    Start: October 2020
    End: April 2021

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

In all too many cases, there is not an obvious explanation as to why a baby was stillborn. These deaths remain ‘unexplained’, which can be very hard for grieving parents who want to know why their baby died.

One of the ways that pathologists investigate the causes of stillbirth is by looking at the placenta under a microscope. However, it is possible that some important changes could be missed when looking at the placenta in this way. This means that, even after an investigation, the parents may still have no explanation for their baby’s death

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, our researchers will be using new techniques to study the placentas of babies who are stillborn. They hope that this will reveal new information about the placenta, which could give more parents the answers they need about why their baby died.

The team will collect placentas donated by parents whose babies were stillborn where the cause of death is known. By studying these under the microscope, our scientists aim to identify changes to the placenta that are associated with different causes of death. They will use computer software to analyse the microscope images, revealing patterns that are not obvious to the human eye. The team will then look at placentas where the cause of stillbirth is not explained, to see if the same changes are present in them.

What difference will this project make?

By using cutting-edge techniques to study the placenta after stillbirth, more parents may be able to get an explanation for why their baby was stillborn. This research will also help scientists understand stillbirth better, which could lead to them developing new ways to prevent it from happening.