You are here: Premature birth research

Why is this research important?

In the UK, more than 61,000 babies are born prematurely each year and sadly, more than 1,000 will lose their lives after being born too soon. Globally, it is the biggest killer of children under five.

There are many different reasons for premature birth, but evidence suggests that how a woman’s body fights infections could be a factor. Women who give birth very early – before 34 weeks of pregnancy – often have a mild infection in their birth canal, but some women with similar infections still give birth at full term.

We think how a body fights these mild infections during pregnancy is important. Developing a better understanding about this should help us find new ways to reduce a woman’s risk of premature birth and the heartache it can cause.

Professor Tribe's research aims to develop a new test to identify women at risk of giving birth too soon.

Defending against infections

Researchers believe that tiny spherical structures called exosomes, released by cells lining the birth canal, play a key role in defending against mild infections by alerting neighbouring cells to the bacterial invasion, so they can mount an immune response to fight the infection.

The goal of this project is to study this exosome defence system in samples collected from women in early pregnancy – comparing those who have straightforward pregnancies to those who deliver preterm.

Exciting findings

The researchers are also planning a series of laboratory tests to improve their understanding of how exosomes work and how they may help protect pregnant women from complications.

In their preliminary work, the researchers have already identified 25 different biological messages carried in the exosomes of women who go on to have a preterm birth. This project builds upon these exciting findings.

Clinical impact

The researchers hope to identify a specific biological ‘finger-print’ in the exosomes of women most likely to have a preterm birth.

They plan to use this ‘finger-print’ to develop a clinical test for women in early pregnancy to identify those at risk. If successful, this would enable more effective clinical care to be taken to help prevent these women from giving birth too soon, and reduce the number of babies born prematurely.

This project is jointly funded with Borne.