Tongan scientist heads team that discovers protein link in stillbirth risk
Associate Professor and senior scientist at Mercy Hospital for Women in Melbourne Tu’uhevaha Kaitu’u-Lino and her core team of three practicing obstetricians have discovered a new novel protein measurable in the bloodstream that can help predict which women are at risk of stillbirth.
Kaitu’u-Lino says the newly discovered protein, called SPINT 1, is needed in the body to help with a healthy placenta, which provides oxygen and nutrients to the baby and helps it to grow. Their research has found SPINT 1 is reduced in women who are carrying a small or poorly grown baby – indicating there could be a risk of stillbirth.
“Small babies are at the greatest risk of being born still,” Kaitu’u-Lino says. “This research is so important because at the moment birth rates haven’t changed in the last decade. In Australia, one in every 130 pregnancies is lost to still birth. So, it means every single day five, six, seven families are facing this tragedy. I think the main reason we haven’t been able to change outcomes for these women is because our ability to understand the size of the baby is still quite poor, so in the clinic they might do an ultra sound or put a tape measure over Mum’s tummy, but we know those tools aren’t very accurate. So the work we are doing is trying to accurately tell doctors which babies are at risk and which babies are poorly grown.”
She says the goal would be to study the molecules in proteins like SPINT1 to be able to produce new treatments to help babies grow better in the womb.
“The ultimate goal of all our team is to make sure that every parent gets to take home a healthy baby, and I think if we can do this by reducing stillbirth, that would be a huge breakthrough for everyone.”
Watch Associate Professor Tu’uhevaha Kaitu’u-Lino’s full interview with Tagata Pasifika above.