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Nanotechnology Can Help Prevent Preterm Birth


Preterm birth is defined in different ways in different countries. It refers to a woman giving birth too early and the where the chance of the baby surviving is low. In the U.S., preterm birth refers to any period prior to 37 weeks. Pregnancy normally lasts 40 weeks. Globally, preterm affects 1 in 10 babies, although the figures vary by region.

To reduce the risk of this happening, researchers are seeing if nanoparticles can be used to develop a new medicines to reduce preterm incidences. Currently, the medicines to treat preterm are a class of drugs called tocolytic (anti-contraction repressants) medications. An example is the drug indomethacin. These drugs carry the risk of unintended side effects, where the drug can cross the uterus and make contact with the fetus.

As an alternative researchers have bioengineered an microscopic nanoparticle, based on indomethacin. The aim is to target the uterus but not to cross the placenta and reach the fetus.  In studies the nanoparticle has been tested on pregnant mice. The studies showed a good success rate and stopped mice from delivering pups prematurely.

The next stage is to test the drug’s effectiveness in human uterine tissue donated from C-sections.

The research is led by Dr.  Jerrie Refuerzo, from the University of Texas Medical School (Houston). The research has yet to be published in a peer reviewed paper.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.