Science Says It Might Be Possible to Prevent Stillbirth
by Lisa René LeClair
Photograph by Twenty20
as the birth of an infant that has died in the womb after having survived
the first 20 weeks of pregnancy—has baffled doctors for centuries.
Though many theories
exist surrounding the causes of fetal death, the most common include problems with the placenta and birth defects. Many scientists also have been pointing the finger specifically at placental abruption (the separation
of the placenta from the uterine lining) and preeclampsia (a pregnancy-related
form of high blood pressure).
However, a new study at
Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) in Australia suggests that
deteriorating or prematurely aging placentas are actually to blame for this
phenomenon. If this theory is correct, and researchers are able to find a way
to detect the early onset of this condition, then alerting obstetricians when a
baby is in danger may one day be an option for parents.
According to Professor Roger Smith, who led the study, he and his colleagues hope to develop a test in the next three to five
years that would detect elevated levels of aldehyde oxidase, an enzyme that is emitted by organs in a
mother’s bloodstream as she ages.
that we’ll be able to develop diagnostic tests to pick up in the mother’s blood
the signs of aging of the placenta, and therefore predict this devastating
event, so that the obstetricians can perform a caesarean section and get the
baby out before the baby dies,” said Smith.
So, can it work?
The short answer is yes, but it could be a challenge for infants who are unable
to stay put until mom hits the 27-week mark, when chances of survival are
greater. Even so, we may have a backup plan.
Smith, “If a baby is too early in pregnancy to be delivered, we may be able to
give drugs that inhibit that enzyme to slow the aging of the placenta, and
allow the baby to stay in the uterus until it is likely to survive when it’s
But wait, it
gets better. If scientists are able to restrict this enzyme, they might be able
to prevent it from causing damage to other tissues unrelated to
that if we develop different ways of stopping this enzyme working to cause
damage, it may lead to lower levels of aging in other tissues and perhaps even
healthy life extension,” says Smith.
is a shocking paradox that affects more than 25,000 families each year. Often, women
will blame themselves for something like this, even though they are not at
something that’s happened to the placenta," Smith explains. "There
was nothing they could do to prevent it. So they shouldn’t feel guilt about
Easy for him to
say, but moms are masters of disguise. We can tuck our feelings down so deep
that no one sees the pain. If you find yourself in the throes of the
is right here at your fingertips. The stories are endless, but perhaps one will
resonate and get you through another day.