A New Molecule to Prevent Premature Birth

Researchers from CHU Sainte-Justine and University of Montreal have successfully designed a molecule capable of preventing preterm labor and premature birth.

Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death worldwide. Moreover the preterm children, who survive, often face potentially severe, long-lasting physical, intellectual or psychological challenges.

Clinically, delivery occurring before 37 weeks of gestation is termed as premature birth. It is associated with inflammation of the uterine tissue, inducing contractions and preterm labor.

Interleukin 1, which acts as a regulator of immune and inflammatory responses in the body also functions as a messenger, responsible for triggering and amplifying inflammation in uterus. However Interleukin 1 also plays key physiological role in protecting vulnerable foetus against infections, and help the cells to survive through inflammation and other sources of aggression.

Thus the researchers designed a protein molecule, with the aim to prevent inflammatory responses in uterus, without affecting beneficial effects of Interleukin 1. To check this, they run some preclinical trials with some known inhibitors of Interleukin 1. However, these orthosteric antagonists were found to have no significant effects in controlling inflammation and also caused serious side effects to the foetus. The researchers explained that these commonly available inhibitors are large molecules and they block most of the signalling pathways of Interleukin 1, including some protective mechanisms critical for the foetus, such as immune-surveillance and cyto-protection.

So the researchers improvised their idea and designed a much smaller molecule to selectively block the inflammation controlling pathway without disturbing the other useful functions of Interleukin 1. They named the molecule as, ‘101.10’. The molecule was found to be very efficient in inhibition of inflammation and contractions of uterine tissue and thus preventing preterm labor in mice models. Surprisingly the molecule also was found to be quite safe for foetus and mother.

Experts think that “101.10” needs to be tested in humans. For the time being, women with a history of prematurity would be candidate for this future treatment, as scientific evidence shows that they are at increased risk of preterm labor. The research team is also looking forward to develop some clinical/ biochemical tests to predict the preterm delivery risk of a woman, notwithstanding her history of birth or delivery.

The study is published in the Journal of Immunology.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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