Research to predict premature births

SCIENTISTS and doctors in Sheffield are conducting trials in the hope of improving prediction of premature births.

With nearly £1m of funding from the Medical Research Council, they are developing devices that can assess a woman’s cervix to establish the risk of her having a premature birth. Electrical impulses take measurements of the resistance of tissue in the cervix.

The three-year project is being set up at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield.

Five hundred women are to be recruited at the Jessop Wing, including 300 of the women who are deemed at high risk of having a premature birth because they have had such a birth at least once before.

The other 200 will be women without a history of premature birth.

If the devices are shown to be accurate, it could allow doctors to use a hormone treatment to help prolong the pregnancy. Additionally, women could be transferred to a unit better equipped to provide high dependency neonatal care.

Dr Dilly Anumba, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, said: “If we can prove the devices to be accurate, they could transform our ability to predict and manage premature birth. At present, our predictive methods are unreliable, and so it is more difficult to give mothers and babies the treatment they need to maximize the chances of a successful birth. With the devices, we could be able to start treatments earlier, focus them better, and potentially give babies a much better start in life.”