HMRI researcher awarded a fellowship to fight preterm birth using nanoparticles

Jul 6 2021

Dr Jonathan Paul from the HMRI Mothers and Babies research group has been awarded an Early-Mid Career Fellowship from NSW Health to continue his work to prevent preterm birth.

The three-year fellowship, worth over $375,000, will support Dr Paul's innovative work using nanoparticles to deliver therapeutics to block premature uterine contractions. The nanoparticles produced by HMRI's Targeted Nanoparticle Facility is the same technology used to produce the mRNA vaccines that have been highly effective in the fight against COVID-19.

There are currently no safe and effective treatments for preventing preterm birth, which is birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Unfortunately, while several treatments are known to be effective in stopping contractions, some of these drugs also have 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.

Because nanoparticles are targeted to specific cells within the body, the risk of side effects or harm to the baby can be dramatically reduced.

This research aims to develop nucleic acid therapeutics as a safe and effective approach for blocking premature uterine contractions that lead to preterm birth.

Dr Paul said it was a great honor to receive the fellowship and that his work would focus on two aspects of premature contractions.

"Firstly, we will be using nucleic acid therapeutics to try to preserve uterine smooth muscle cells in a relaxed state; this is aimed at preventing premature contractions from occurring in high-risk women," Dr Paul said.

"Second, we will also use the same approach to attempt to block existing premature contractions, with the aim of providing a viable treatment for pregnant women that are already experiencing premature contractions."

To do this Dr Paul will deliver RNA therapeutics specifically to uterine smooth muscle cells using the teams patented nanoparticle-based, uterine-targeted drug delivery system.

HMRI's Targeted Nanoparticle Facility and Dr Paul's work has been supported through generous donations from many HMRI donors, most recently through BorneHMRI

Dr Jonathan Paul is a Lecturer and Senior Research Officer from the University of Newcastle and is part of the Hunter Medical Research Institute Pregnancy & Reproduction Research team.