ENTRY LEVEL SCHOLARSHIPS 2011
Dr Natalie Suff, UCL Institute for Women’s Health
Prevention of premature labour by reducing infection within the womb
This ELS is awarded in conjunction with the British Maternal and Fetal Medicine Society
Recent research has shown that infection within the womb can trigger premature labour. The infection originates within the vagina and travels into the womb. In normal pregnancies the neck of the womb (cervix) is believed to act as a protective barrier preventing infection from entering the womb. The cervix is known to produce specialised proteins that can kill bacteria and reduce the inflammatory effects associated with infection and it is thought that these contribute to the effectiveness of the cervix as a barrier preventing bacteria access
It is known that women in whom the cervix is damaged and hence who have a reduced protective barrier to infection are more likely to deliver early. The overall aim of this project is to increase the amount of specific proteins (that are highly effective at killing bacteria) produced by cells lining the cervical canal. This will be done by using viral proteins (vectors) that are extremely effective at entering cells to carry new genes into the cervical cell – a technique called gene therapy. It is hoped this will prevent infection from reaching the womb and the baby thus reducing the risk of delivering early.
The long term goal of this study will be to demonstrate that over-production of antibacterial proteins by the mouse cervix can be achieved and that this prevents bacteria from getting into the womb. This would be the first step towards designing a clinically relevant treatment that could be used in pregnant women to prevent preterm birth.