NEW FINDINGS BY Irish researchers examining the cause of premature births could form a breakthrough in the struggle to reduce infant mortality.
The scientists at Trinity College Dublin were examining the causes of premature births and pre-eclampsia, a common pregnancy condition which in severe cases can be fatal.
Premature birth is the biggest cause of infant mortality on a global scale.
The research showed that mothers who give birth prematurely or develop pre-eclampsia – the key symptom of which is high blood pressure – have higher levels of their baby’s DNA in their own blood.
This is sensed by a protein called TLR9 which can cause an inflammatory reaction, leading in turn to premature labour.
However, the research found that the inflammation can be blocked by drugs including chloroquin, which is more widely known as an antimalarial.
Luke O’Neill, a biochemistry professor at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, said:
The normal job of TLR9 is to sense DNA from viruses and bacteria. In preterm labour however, where the baby’s DNA enters the mother’s blood, TLR9 does mischief causing early birth. Our study makes TLR9 an attractive target to stop preterm birth
John O’Leary, professor of pathology at TCD, said research in this area was crucial. “Premature birth is the biggest cause of infant mortality worldwide. Why babies are born early, as defined as less than 37 weeks gestation, is not known,” he said.