Research Fellows Directory
Dr Guillermina Girardi
University of Edinburgh
Preterm birth (PTB) is a major public health problem. More than 15 millon babies are born too soon worldwide. When babies are born before they are fully developed, they face many serious medical problems, including brain damage that can result in long term cognitiva, behavioural, attentional or socialization deficits. Unfortunately, in the majority of the cases of premature births, there is no procedure or test that an obstetrician can employ to predict if a fetus is at risk for PTB and the associated fetal brain damage. There are few applicable preventive and therapeutic solutions for PTB and thus an estimated 1 milllon deaths occur worldwide every year because of prematurity. Our goal is to find an affordable and fast way to reduce preterm labour and perinatal mortality and morbidity. The full cost and time required to bring a new drug to market is enormous. An estimate of £2B and 15 years need to be invested in this process. Using a mouse model of PTB that resembles the clinical scenario we identified one of the molecules responsible for triggering parturition before term and fetal brain injury. This molecule is called C5a and plays a role in our immune system. In this mouse model, we also found that statins, drugs widely used to reduce cholesterol levels and protect the heart, prevent PTB and protect the fetal brains from injury. We studied the fetal brain metabolism while in uterus using a novel MRI technique . We now need to translate our results in mice to women. Recent studies showed that statins do not cause birth defects in humans and are safe to use in pregnant women. We will now organize a clinical trial to study if statins could prevent PTB and fetal brain injury in humans. If clinical trials confirm these studies in humans we might have found a safe and cheap therapy to prevent PTB and neonatal fetal brain damage.
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