Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and University College London have developed a new approach to repair defects in fetal membranes which could prevent life-long medical conditions and disabilities with preterm birth. The integrity of the fetal membranes that surrounds the baby in the womb during pregnancy is vital for normal development. Once the fetal membranes have ruptured or are damaged, they fail to heal leaving a defect until the end of pregnancy.
This condition is the preterm premature rupture of the fetal membrane (PPROM); is a common cause of preterm birth. Currently, there are no clinical solutions to improve healing of the fetal membranes after they rupture. This new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports; describes a reason for this poor healing response. The researchers have identified a molecular mechanism activated during the repetitive stretching of the amniotic membrane; linking the mechanical forces to factors that may cause preterm labor and PPROM.
The bioengineering and pharmaceutical
When the researchers used a combined bioengineering and pharmaceutical approach to knock down a protein called connexin 43 (Cx43); they found the reduction in this molecule encourages the rebuilding of the fetal membranes and enhances the processes of tissue healing and repair; similar to healing skin wounds.”They hope that our combined bioengineering and pharmaceutical approach will effectively repair defects in the fetal membranes; therefore allowing the amniotic fluid to reaccumulate around the baby and preventing the life-long medical conditions and disabilities associated with PPROM and preterm birth.”
Fetal medicine specialists are increasingly offering surgery to babies in the womb before birth; to treat abnormalities of the spine, diaphragm or placenta. PPROM complicates around one-third of these cases, which reduces the clinical effectiveness of fetal surgery. a consultant in pre-term birth at University College London Hospital (UCLH), Director of the UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health and a co-author of the paper; “Improving fetal membrane healing is a major unmet clinical need for my patients who spontaneously rupture their membranes.
The baby before birth
They are now offering fetal surgery at UCLH to close spina bifida in the baby before birth; the ability to heal the fetal membranes after surgery would improve baby outcomes. Their findings could lead to a therapy that will prevent preterm birth, with the potential to save many lives worldwide.”
“Their aim at Sparks is to fund research that will have the greatest impact for seriously ill children; finding new ways to prevent preterm birth could have a tremendous impact for some of the 60,000 babies in the UK who are born too soon each year. It is very encouraging to see the exciting and innovative progress by Dr. Chowdhury and her team in this important area of child health that can affect babies not only at birth but also throughout their lives.”