A new study in rodents found that blocking a single molecule in the uterus may hinder premature birth, which is currently one of the most prevalent causes for disability and death in newborns across the globe.
Normal pregnancies should last anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks. That being said, more than ten percent of all infants are born less than 37 weeks into the pregnancy.
According to Dr. David Cornfield, co-senior author of the study and a paediatric pulmonary medicine physician and scientist at Stanford University in California, about three percent of infants are born as early as less than 31 weeks into the pregnancy.
Major problems can occur due premature births, because a lot of organs fully developed only by the final weeks of pregnancy. These include: the brain, liver, and lungs.
Currently there is no treatment for premature labour. The growing foetus is sheltered by the womb during pregnancy, and when a woman goes into labour the uterus experience strong contractile waves that move the infant down the birth canal. Whatever makes the womb start the labour process is still poorly understood.
Prior studies found that womb contractions may be controlled by calcium levels in the muscle cells of the uterus.
In the new research, Dr. Cornfield and fellow researchers looked a molecule called TRPV4 (transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 4) – which they found in the mouse uterus. This molecule helps control the level of calcium in cells.
According to scientists, pregnant women have higher levels of TRPV4 in their uterine tissue, compared with non-pregnant women. TRPV4 also became more abundant in the uterine wall muscle cells of mice and rats as they advanced in pregnancy.
Uterine contractions increased in mice when the researchers administered molecules that activated TRPV4.
Previous researchers also found molecules that were able to block TRPV4, thus halting calcium to enter the muscle cells within the wall of the uterus. These compounds prevented premature labour in mice, even when they were administered medications that set off premature labour.
If this approach can also work safely on humans, it may be used to develop treatment that halts premature labour, Dr. Cornfield said.
The findings were published December 23 in the Journal Science Translational Medicine.
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