preventing premature contractions

INSTITUTION: Institute of Genetic Medicine and Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University and the Reproductive Health and Childbirth Specialty Group, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in conjunction with the Centre for Experimental Medicine, Queen’s University Belfast.
RESEARCHERS: Professor Michael J Taggart, Professor Stephen C Robson, Dr Paul Ayuk and Dr David Simpson

One way to prevent or delay preterm birth would be to give drugs that can prevent womb contractions. Unfortunately, these can put the mother or baby at risk of serious side effects.

In research funded jointly by Borne and Action Medical Research, Professor Michael Taggart at Newcastle University is aiming to develop safer and more effective treatments that can stop premature contractions, reducing the risk of early birth.

about the research

Currently, there are no treatments available that can reliably prevent premature womb contractions while also being risk-free for the mother and baby. For example, many drugs that are effective at reducing contractions may also relax blood vessels and affect blood flow to the womb or placenta, which could put the baby at risk.

In order to find a way to specifically target the muscles of the womb without affecting any other important tissues, we need a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that activate womb muscle tissues to contract – and how these differ from similar processes in blood vessels of the womb and placenta.

“We’ve recently established that these three tissues react differently to certain drugs, suggesting they possess key differences at a molecular level that we could potentially exploit,” says Professor Taggart.

The researchers are using an advanced technique called proteomics to try and work out which molecules are important in which tissue of the womb for controlling the labour process.

“We urgently need to develop safer, more effective treatments that can help stop premature labour. Importantly, we need to make sure that these don’t expose the mother or baby to the risk of potentially serious side effects.”

– Professor Michael Taggart


Using these technically very challenging techniques the team has made good progress to establish important foundations – they can now measure the amounts of around 4,000 proteins per tiny tissue human sample from the womb and are beginning to make comparisons of biological and clinical relevance.

The next steps are to obtain new knowledge of molecular mechanisms that control uterine contractions during labour and to be able to use this novel information to design better strategies for using drugs to treat and prevent early preterm labour.

“Through this Borne and Action Medical Research funded project we’re aiming to find a way to specifically target the muscles of the womb without affecting other important tissues – safely and effectively reducing the likelihood of spontaneous preterm birth,” says Professor Taggart.

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