- PIBF1 protein found in the lining of the mother’s womb could reset the body’s immune response.
- Mothers who give birth to premature babies have low levels of the protein PIBF1.
A protein can stop the immune system triggering early labour, which is believed to happen in response to infection.
Premature birth is the second leading cause of death in children under five and is associated with lifelong health issues. Some 60,000 babies are born premature before the 37th week of pregnancy each year in the UK.
The protein found in the lining of the mother's womb, which could reset the body's immune response. When a copycat version of the human protein, which is produced by immune cells, was created in the laboratory and injected into mice, it was 100 percent successful in preventing premature births.
When a pregnant woman develops an infection, her body can start to push out the baby in an attempt to rid her of the bug. However this is dangerous for tiny babies, which have not yet fully grown in the womb.
Researchers found the protein, PIBF1, after taking biopsies of 15 women who gave birth prematurely and 30 who carried their children to full-term.
PIBF1 is itself part of the immune system however it reacts to stress by acting as a check, potentially preventing a woman going into labour. The mothers who gave birth prematurely had significantly less of this protein. But when it was injected into nine mice with infections, it stopped all of them going into labour early.
Professor Andrew Shennan, clinical director of Tommy's prematurity clinic at St Thomas' Hospital in London, said, "Preventing pre-term birth remains an enigma and any research that clarifies the mechanism to provide treatment targets is welcomed. This research is important and novel."