Preterm births occur to one in every six births in the United States, and the situation is as serious in many other countries worldwide. It is the top leading cause of infant death and also in developing long-term illnesses. It creates a number of financial and social burdens for both the parents and specialized personnel who treat the child.

While preterm birth — defined as a birth taking place before the 37th week of pregnancy — is a complex condition, there are two causes which the specialists identified to be responsible for it: infection of the mother and ensuing inflammation.

Improving The Mother's Immune System

A new research, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Dec. 5, discovered an essential function of a kind of immune cells found in the mother's uterine lining, B lymphocytes, which were found to help in the resistance to preterm birth caused by inflammation.

The team of scientists found that B lymphocytes create antibodies which help in the defense against infection in the mother's body. However, until the present research, it was believed that these cells are either very rare or they do not exist at all in the uterine lining, therefore not essential when it comes to pregnancies.

As part of the research, the scientists have discovered in the laboratory analyses they conducted that the mother's B lymphocytes don't just exist in the uterine linings of humans and mice in the last period of pregnancy, they have also detected the inflammation as it happens, as well as uterine stress.

This discovery could help prevent premature births caused by inflammations, as the lymphocytes create molecules which were found to suppress the uterine inflammation.

One of these molecules produced by the B lymphocytes, PIBF1, was found to be especially helpful in the case of women who go through preterm births.

"This study not only reveals the long-neglected function of B lymphocytes in promoting healthy pregnancy, but also supports therapeutic approaches of using B lymphocyte-derived molecules - such as PIBF1 - to prevent or treat preterm birth," noted Wayne State University's Kang Chen, Ph.D, lead author of the research.

A New Approach

Chen's collaborators were thrilled about the results of the study, as well as the management capacities of the lead author, calling the scientist's performance "truly remarkable." The accomplishment was even more praised by his team, as the researchers reportedly encountered a series of problems throughout the project, which may have ultimately led to the failure of the project, should the Chen have been less capable.

The team of researchers also conducted proof-of-concept studies in animals, and also filed a patent for this discovery which could shape the way we treat inflammation in pregnant women.

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