Life-long medical conditions and disabilities associated with preterm birth could be prevented with a new bioengineering approach led by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Bioengineers from SEMS working together with clinical practitioners have potentially found a way to reduce preterm births and prevent early deaths of young babies worldwide, according to initial findings of research published in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis.
The integrity of the fetal membranes that surround the baby in the womb during pregnancy are vital for normal development. If they are damaged, they fail to heal and this can cause a preterm birth and possible lifelong defects. A study, presented at the British Science Festival on Tuesday 5th September, reveals a reason for this poor healing response.
The researchers have identified a molecular mechanism activated during the repeated stretching of the amniotic membrane, linking the mechanical forces to factors that may cause preterm labour and PPROM (pre-term premature rupture of the fetal membrane). The team are in the process of developing bioengineering strategies that encourage rebuilding of the fetal membranes, through enhanced tissue healing. They expect that this approach will effectively repair defects in the fetal membranes, therefore preventing PPROM and the life-long medical conditions and disabilities associated with preterm birth.
Dr Tina Chowdhury, who leads the bioengineering research programme at SEMS, said: “To have potentially found a way to reduce preterm births and prevent early deaths of young babies worldwide is incredibly exciting. The unique bioengineering tools at QMUL have allowed us to test the tissue in a way that has never been done before. This gives us an understanding of both the mechanical as well as biological mechanisms involved and will help us to develop therapies that will reduce the number of preterm births.”
Professor Anna David who leads the clinical side of the research programme at UCL Institute for Women’s Health and UCLH added: “PPROM and subsequent preterm birth is a major unsolved pregnancy complication. Working with Tina in a cross-disciplinary project is bringing together engineers and clinicians to find a solution for a problem that affects many of my patients and their babies.”
The researchers are also in the process of developing bioengineering strategies that encourage rebuilding of the fetal membranes, through enhanced tissue healing.
This research is funded by the Rosetrees Trust, Sparks and Prenatal charity. The research is highly collaborative and involves the teams at KU Leuven, Nanyang Technological University and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children NHS Trust.
- Science Summer School with Prof Brian Cox
- BBC World Health News