Preventing Preterm Birth and Adverse Outcomes in Newborns

A pregnant woman stands next to a large window and looks down while holding her belly.

Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death and long-term disability (related to the nervous system) in the United States, and effective treatments to prevent preterm birth are lacking. In some cases, preterm infants are born to pregnant individuals with inflammation in the amniotic cavity (i.e., intra-amniotic inflammation), which is diagnosed by an elevated number of white blood cells in the amniotic fluid or by high levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6). Most cases of intra-amniotic inflammation occur in the absence of microbes, a condition that is termed “sterile intra-amniotic inflammation.”

Tocilizumab is a therapeutic that blocks IL-6 receptor and is prescribed for inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In a recent study external link from the Pregnancy Research Branch, researchers tested a drug similar to tocilizumab in a mouse model of sterile intra-amniotic inflammation-induced preterm birth. They found that blocking IL-6 receptor in the mother prevents preterm birth and reduces adverse outcomes in pups.

The findings demonstrate the previously untested application of IL-6 receptor blockade for the prevention of preterm birth and adverse neonatal outcomes driven by sterile intra-amniotic inflammation. Importantly, the findings from this clinically relevant animal model provide a proof-of-concept for undertaking future studies in larger animals, and eventually in people.

Learn more about the Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Translational Imaging Affinity Group:

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