Doctors investigate the impact of low oxygen on unborn babies to help in quest to prevent miscarriage, stillbirth, and problem pregnancies
Research begins on high altitude babies' placentas
Placentas of babies born at high altitudes have begun arriving at a lab in Cambridge University. They are part of a new study looking at how lack of oxygen affects babies in the womb, funded by children’s charity Action Medical Research.
Dr Andrew Murray, who is leading the study, has spent years looking into the effect of high altitude and oxygen restriction on the human body. He hopes these placentas, belonging to babies whose mums spent their pregnancies at high altitude, will reveal clues about how babies can adapt to lower oxygen levels.
“Mums from high altitudes are more susceptible to conditions such as pre-eclampsia and foetal growth restriction,” Dr Andrew explains. “However, some of these mums do adapt and we want to learn not only what effect low oxygen has, but also how a normal altitude placenta might adapt to low oxygen as well.”
The team have created a method of freezing placentas from babies born in the high altitude US town of Leadville, Colorado, and safely transporting them to the UK for analysis.
Low oxygen levels reaching a foetus through its placenta is thought to be a major cause of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-eclampsia and especially foetal growth syndrome, where the baby grows dangerously slowly in the womb. Foetal growth restriction affects around 60,000 babies every year in the UK.
“The researchers hope their work will eventually lead to new ways to screen for foetal growth restriction and prevent the lasting harm it can cause to babies,” said research manager Dr Alexandra Dedman. “They plan to work towards new blood tests, which could allow doctors to identify babies who are struggling in the womb earlier.”