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What causes tragic pregnancy loss, and how can it be prevented?

Dr Emily Cornish has been awarded £18,847 to investigate new treatments for a little known, but tragic, pregnancy complication

Miscarriage and stillbirth can devastate the dreams and lives of couples trying for a baby.

Three rare placental disorders - chronic histiocytic intervillositis (CHI), villitis of unknown ethology (VUE) and massive perilous fibrin deposition (MPFD) - cause not only recurrent pregnancy loss but also extreme prematurity and chronic health conditions in the children that survive.

Scientists still don’t know what causes them and sadly, they can only be diagnosed once a pregnancy has already ended. Babies often appear much smaller than expected in ultrasound scans, but otherwise, there are no warning signs that it will happen.

Finding a cause

In the MIRAPO study, a Wellbeing of Women funded team at UCL are looking into what causes the conditions, why certain women develop them, and the drugs that could be used to treat them.


“We believe these conditions may arise when a mother develops an antibody against the developing pregnancy, which damages the placenta and prevents it from supporting normal growth of the baby,” Dr Emily Cornish explains. “If the damage is severe, the baby can be stillborn.

“We hope that discovering more about how these conditions that cause recurrent pregnancy loss will lead to the identification of new treatments that could benefit women with CHI, VUE, MPFD and other related conditions.”

Testing new potential treatments

The researchers already have promising early results with a drug usually used for organ transplants.

“We have prevented recurrence of CHI in four women by giving a medicine usually used to prevent immune rejection of kidney transplants,” Dr Cornish explains.

“As it is safe in pregnancy, we believe it could also improve pregnancy outcome for women with related placental disorders or with unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss.”

Thanks to Dr Cornish’s research, we could come one step closer to understanding these rare and devastating conditions - and importantly, preventing tragic losses.

Our health information on pregnancy and birth

As a women’s health charity, part of what we do is improve awareness and understanding of women's reproductive and gynaecological health.