The cause of miscarriages has stumped scientists for decades. It seems to ‘just happen’, particularly in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. As many as one in five women will suffer miscarriage at some point in their lives, but a further one in one hundred women will suffer from multiple miscarriages (i.e. 3 or more).
Despite years of research, it is only now that an answer to why this terrible event happens may have been found. Scientists at the University of Warwick have studied tissue samples from 183 women. Of those who had suffered from multiple miscarriages, it was discovered that they had a significantly smaller number of stem cells within their wombs.
The researchers have proposed that this deficiency causes the womb to, in essence, age faster, meaning that even before pregnancy begins, the uterus is ‘defective’. Jan Brosens, who led the research, explains how this knowledge is useful:
“We have discovered that the lining of the womb in the recurrent miscarriage patients we studied is already defective before pregnancy. I can envisage that we will be able to correct these defects before the patient tries to achieve another pregnancy. In fact, this may be the only way to really prevent miscarriages in these cases.”
The researchers hope to be able to treat the problem by a two-step process. Firstly, they wish to develop new endometrial tests to screen women who may be at risk. Secondly, they wish to implement new techniques for improving womb viability:
“There are a number of drugs and other interventions, such as endometrial ‘scratch’, a procedure used to help embryos implant more successfully, that have the potential to increase the stem cell populations in the womb lining.” Siobhan Quenby, co-author.
They hope to be piloting new interventions as early as spring 2016.
To find out more about the research, take a look at the journal article published in STEM CELLS.
If you or someone you know has been affected by miscarriage, you can find support through the Miscarriage Association.