Preventing the early onset of labour is vital in the fight against pre-term birth but unfortunately developing new drugs is a long and difficult process. Fortunately, there are already several well-studied existing drugs that are known to prevent early labour or stop labour once it has begun.
Unfortunately, while known to be effective in stopping contractions some of these drugs have some serious side effects. These can include affecting organs elsewhere in the mother's body or even crossing the placenta into the fetus, making them unsuitable for use during pregnancy - which means clinicians can't use them to treat pre-term birth.
The Borne HMRI team are addressing this problem with the use of nanoparticles. By placing these drugs, or a combination of drugs, inside a nanoparticle they can prevent the absorption of these drugs in the mother's vital organs. By tagging the outsides of these nanoparticles with antibodies or other small proteins which targets them only to the cells of the uterus.
This means the particles essentially have a tiny lock on the outside and the only cells with the key are in the uterus. This approach gets the drugs to the uterus so they can act where needed.
Borne HMRI researchers in Australia and the UK have been working to identify potential drugs for use inside the nanoparticles. Researchers from HMRI have reviewed many existing drugs to see which ones work best and have combined different drugs to see how they work together. Through this work, the team led by Dr Jonathan Paul have discovered that two existing drugs which clinicians have used in the past to prevent or stop contractions work far better together than on their own. This synergistic drug effect and when then combined with the nanoparticle technology opens the way for new treatments that could be rolled out far faster than developing new drugs from scratch.
Since clinicians have already used these drugs in humans it could potentially cut in half the time it would take to go from lab to use with patients in the hospital. Professor Mark Johnson from Borne UK has also identified drugs for potential use with nanoparticles to prevent pre-term birth.