Breakthrough may prevent premature labour

New treatments could lower the risk of disability

Scientists have made a breakthrough that could lead to new treatments to prevent pregnant women going into premature labour.

Premature labour affects one in ten pregnancies and a small number of women go into very early labour, before 32 weeks gestation. This increases the risk of handicap in the baby, and very premature babies are unlikely to survive.

Researchers at Imperial College London said premature labour causes disability not because the baby is underdeveloped but because the process that triggers early labour affects the foetus directly.

When they investigated mechanisms involved they found that when bacteria was detected by cells in the womb a domino effect of signals can trigger labour to start and by blocking the signals half way along, the process could be stopped. The signals can be blocked with a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory hormone or a drug.

So far researchers have tested the system on human cells in the laboratory and on animals. Clinical trials in humans should begin within two or three years.

Professor Phil Bennett, lead researcher from the Clinical Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial College London, said in today’s Daily Telegraph: “We are excited about the findings of this research as we have now discovered how to block a key pathway which leads to premature birth.

“Although more research needs to be done, we believe this is a step forward in the development of treatments to prevent premature birth.”

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