Scientists in Mumbai claimed to have found a link between preterm births — babies born before the expected due date — and bacterial infection in the mother’s vagina during pregnancy. While the study was done in female mice, researchers are now looking to undertake a similar study in humans.
The study, done by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) and the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH), showed that a bacteria called group B streptococcus (GBS) produce tiny balloon-like structures called microvesicles that move from the vagina of a pregnant woman towards her uterus, rupturing the womb, thus leading to preterm births. The findings were published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens on September 1.
This finding has opened new avenues for scientists to look for preventive treatments, said the authors of the study. Estimates show that India accounts for 35% of the world’s preterm births, highest in the world.
“GBS bacteria are normally found present in a woman’s vagina during the pregnancy. But, in almost 40% of the women, the bacteria multiply in number, which somehow results in a premature delivery,” said Dr Deepak Modi, scientist, NIRRH and the author of the paper, adding, “We wondered, how bacteria sitting in the vagina could affect the female’s uterus and the womb. We discovered that the bacteria released microvesicles that travelled upwards towards the womb and ruptured it.”
There are toxins present in the microvesicles, which lead to loss of elasticity in the womb, added the researchers.
Dr Nilima Kshirsagar, national chair clinical pharmacology , Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said with this new research, scientists can change the clinical practice and start looking for new drugs which will be useful in treatment.
“At present, doctors give only antibiotics as treatment to prevent preterm births. But, we find that it does not help in many cases,” she said.