Scientific breakthroughs for your unborn baby

New studies into preventing premature birth and tackling foetal deaths.

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Premature labour may be prevented by blocking a certain protein, a study suggests, reports the BBC.

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A recognised trigger of premature birth is infection, but some mums-to-be seem to go into labour prematurely even when the infection is minor. The protein that appears to start this reaction can be isolated, say the researchers from Imperial College London.

The protein is called Toll-like receptor 4 – or TLR4 – and is found on the surface of cells. When TLR4 recognises bacteria, it triggers inflammation, and it’s this that seems to kickstart labour prematurely.

While bacteria are found in the womb of most mums-to-be, the majority don’t respond this way. The reaction could have had an evolutionary role, possibly being a life-saving reaction for pregnant women when a serious bug is present. However, the reaction occurs in mums who don’t have the infection. The researchers feel they’ve discovered a way to shut down this reaction.

“Although more research needs to be done, we believe this is a step forward in the development of treatments to prevent premature birth,” said Professor Philip Bennett, lead researcher from the Clinical Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial College London.

Tackling foetal deaths

In other science news, a formula has been written that could help combat foetal deaths

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Some foetal deaths are connected to have an unusually small placenta that ‘starves’ the unborn baby. The equation, from Yale researchers, helps doctors measure the volume of a mum-to-be’s placenta during routine ultrasound scans. Before now, there’s been no simple way to measure a woman’s placenta.

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