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Mutating Genes May Lead to Premature Births

Study in mice finds link that may someday improve prevention efforts

MONDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are reporting that a gene mutation in a pregnant mouse leads to changes inside the uterus that cause premature birth and, in some cases, death of the fetus.

The findings, published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to new ways to prevent and treat premature birth, the study's senior investigator, Sudhansu K. Dey, director of reproductive sciences at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said in a hospital news release. Premature births have been linked to almost a third of all neonatal deaths and cost an estimated $26 billion a year, according to the hospital.

The researchers studied pathways that help cells communicate, focusing on one known as a "guardian angel gene" because it helps prevent genes from mutating.

They studied the gene in female mice and found that a mutation could lead to premature birth and death of the fetus. The finding could help in the development of new strategies to prevent early births or treat the problems experienced by preterm babies, Dey said.

Future research, he said, should examine the gene and the role it plays more closely.

"Preterm birth and prematurity are problems that pose huge long-term social and economic liabilities, and there is an urgent need for research with new approaches to combat this public health concern," Dey said.

More information

The March of Dimes has more on premature birth.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Cincinnati Children's Hospital, news release, Feb. 1, 2010

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