Researchers from the University of Adelaide have successfully tested a drug that is showing some early promise in efforts to prevent pre-term birth.
Pre-term births represent 12% of all births worldwide and lead to the death of 1.1 million babies each year.
The main causes of pre-term birth are bacterial infection (in around 50% of cases), physical injury or stress causing placental damage, carrying twins or triplets, or from environmental toxins such as air pollution.
Each of these is associated with what researchers describe as an “inflammatory cascade”, which can activate the mother’s immune response and ultimately lead to spontaneous pre-term birth.
Researchers in the University’s Robinson Research Institute tested a drug known as (+)-naloxone, which has the ability to switch off pro-inflammatory pathways.
Using the drug in pregnant mice, the researchers found that pre-term birth was entirely prevented, infant fatalities were significantly reduced, and the low birth weight normally associated with pre-term birth was also reversed.
“New interventions are urgently needed to tackle the underlying causes of pre-term birth, prevent infant deaths and reduce the impact of a wide range of developmental impairments which can have lifelong health consequences,” says lead author and Director of the Robinson Research Institute Professor Sarah Robertson.
“Our studies give us some encouragement that it may be possible to prevent many pre-term births by using drugs that target the body’s inflammatory mechanisms, probably in combination with antibiotics as well,” Professor Robertson says.
You can read more about this study here.
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