Search to delay prem births
Tara Counsel with seven-month-old Owen who was born 13 weeks early. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

New mothers such as Tara Counsel are helping Perth researchers find a drug that could help prevent some premature births.

After going into labour 13 weeks early in May, Mrs Counsel and husband Pete's first child Owen became one of the almost 3000 babies born prematurely in WA each year.

_He spent the next four months in King Edward Memorial Hospital before going home in September. _

The Women and Infants Res-earch Foundation is working to discover what causes early lab-our and how it can be prevented, using patients at KEMH to help.

Immunology researcher Dem-elza Ireland is trying to find a way to block infection-related inflammation in the uterus that can lead to preterm labour.

"Infections cause inflammation which triggers early labour, and we know that the inflammation reaction in the placenta is caused by chemicals known as cytokines," he said.

"We are now studying a new group of drugs that block cytokines, which we hope will help stop early labour."

Dr Ireland is collecting placentas from women who give birth early at KEMH to test the effects of the drugs.

So far, two have been shown to prevent the effects of inflammation in the placenta, and they are being tested further to see if they can prevent early labour.

"We are also investigating ways of identifying women who may be at an increased risk of early labour due to infection," Dr Ireland said.

"If we can identify these women before labour begins, we will be able to treat them early and hopefully prevent infection-related preterm birth."

Mrs Counsel, of Morley, said the research was important because it was stressful to have a premature baby. Owen still had eye and lung problems that he would hopefully grow out of over time, she said.

"The name Owen means 'little fighter' and he certainly fought hard to survive but he wouldn't have won his battle without the excellent medical care he received," Mrs Counsel said.

The research will benefit from funds raised at the TriEvents SunSmart Women's Triathlon on March 16 at Hillarys. Details are at .

The West Australian

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