Today, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Our research has revealed how bacteria cause miscarriage and is now building on our understanding of the microbiome’s significance as well as developing treatments.
Understanding the development of an embryo in terms of lipids
At the very first phase of our life – even before implantation into the lining of the womb – we are a ball of stem cells that goes on to form the foetus. Research has already found that the amount of lipids (fatty substances) contained in this initial ball of cells affects the way in which it restructures into three layers of tissue: The endoderm; which will produce the gut and the lungs, mesoderm; producing structures such as bone, muscle, and dermis, and ectoderm; to become the central nervous system and epidermis.
The processes that underpin early development and stem cell pluripotency are fundamental to human biology. If we could decrypt how these processes worked, this knowledge could advance our understanding and treatment of infertility and miscarriages. We could also harvest this knowledge to improve our use of stem cells in both science and medicine.
We funded research led by Dr. Véronique Azuara, exploring how pluripotent stem cells utilise fatty ‘reserves’ to support the fitness and survival of the early embryo, as it implants into the womb lining, through the activation of critical developmental signals.
The study published in July 2022 revealed the important role of lipids in the developing embryo, pre-implantation.This has profound implications for the success of a pregnancy. Dr Tommy Mau summarises the findings below.
Understanding how a healthy placenta develops
Dr Wei Cui is leading a study into the role of a particular complex (multi-chain) protein, called mTORC2 (mTOR Complex 2), in building blood vessels. For a baby developing in the womb, this is important for a healthy cardiovascular system and placenta. This is of course very important for a successful pregnancy.
Understanding bacterial propagation with metatranscriptomics
High levels of “healthy” bacteria called Lactobacillus appear to protect against disease during early pregnancy. This is because they produce anti-microbial / anti-inflammatory compounds such as lactic acid. Our research has found that one particular species, Lactobacillus crispatus, is especially supportive of healthy pregnancy, thus promising to offer a useful biotherapeutic or “probiotic” treatment for women with at-risk pregnancies. We’re supporting a new study that will look at how bacteria’s genes affects their ability to multiply and dominate. The study will use a cutting-edge technique called metatranscriptomics and will focus on pregnant women treated with Lactobacillus crispatus, as part of a world-first trial (FLIP1).
Mental health intervention after miscarriage
Many women suffer huge distress after experiencing a miscarriage, with 1 in 3 displaying PTSD symptoms.
We’re supporting a project involving intervention with a smart device. Women who have suffered a miscarriage will record the frequency of unwanted, distressing and intrusive thoughts at the start, middle and end of the 13-week study.
The relationship between the microbiome and miscarriage
The short video below explains how not only infection, but “good bacteria” affect the probablity of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage.