Press Releases

Synchrotron radiation illuminates how babies' protective bubble bursts – University of Reading

Release Date : 08 October 2007

Researchers at the University of Reading, School of Pharmacy have developed an important new technique to study one of the most common causes of premature birth and prenatal mortality.

Dr Che Connon, a Research Councils UK Fellow in Stem Cells and Nanomaterials, and his team used a powerful X-ray beam to examine tiny structures within the protective sac - amniotic membrane - which surrounds the developing baby.

This beam can resolve structures far smaller than a light or electron microscope. Furthermore unlike other more intrusive forms of microscopy, x-ray investigation requires no processing of the tissue before examination, so can produce an accurate measurement of amniotic membrane structure in its normal state.

When the protective sac raptures during labour this is when the mother's waters burst; if premature rupture occurs it can result in death or mental retardation of the child. Currently premature birth is increasing and 40% are attributed to the early rupture of amniotic membranes. Therefore a better understanding of the rupture process will lead to better treatments, earlier diagnosis and a lower number of premature deliveries

"This is of interest to the general public because amniotic membrane rupture is an important stage in the start of labour. More importantly early rupture of the amniotic membranes occurs in up to 20% of all pregnancies

worldwide, and is the most common cause of preterm birth, leading to babies dying or having major problems such as cerebral palsy. The paper describes a new breakthrough in understanding the structure of amniotic membranes and how they rupture. Hopefully this will lead to therapies designed to prevent preterm membrane rupture as well.

"Rupture of amniotic sac has been associated with a weakening of the tissue, but there is very little information available concerning the detailed mechanics of how this actually occurs.

"We have now identified a regular cross-work arrangement of fibre forming molecules within the amniotic membrane which give the tissue its strength. Furthermore we have detected nanoscale alterations in the molecular arrangement within areas associated with amniotic membrane rupture. These results suggest, for the first time, that it is the loss of this molecular lattice like arrangement that governs the timing of membranes rupture.

"Therefore, by controlling the amniotic membranes molecular arrangement we believe we can prevent premature rupture and delivery in the future."


Notes for editors:

Dr Connon is available on +44 (0)118 378 7053, + (0)7701053420 or .

More information about the University of Reading's School of Pharmacy:

The Reading School of Pharmacy is a new a School, with approximately 50 students who have just finished year two and around 100 students who have just finished year one. Setting up a new School of Pharmacy means we have been able to rethink the way we teach and we feel we have designed a course to produce well qualified pharmacists for the 21st century. We have also been able to recruit a team of dynamic and enterprising new staff and they have set up strong research in many of the key aspects of Pharmacy. We are committed to providing the very best in Pharmacy education and it is our aim to be in the top five of the Pharmacy Schools in the UK when we are fully established.


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