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Nucleic Acid Therapeutics for Preventing Preterm Birth

University of Newcastle

  • Early-Mid Career Fellowship
Date Funded:
  • 17 May, 2021
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Dr. Jonathan Paul

Research intent

To use targeted nanoparticles to safely deliver nucleic acid therapeutics to the pregnant human uterus to prevent preterm birth.

What is the issue?

There are currently no safe and effective treatments for preventing preterm birth, which is birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is an issue for NSW (and the rest of the world) as it is leading cause of death and disease in children less than 5 years of age. Babies that survive being born preterm are increased risk of both short- and long-term medical complications, which can include severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness, and more.

Preterm birth disproportionality affects Indigenous populations, including Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities (13.6% for Indigenous women compared to 8.4% for non-Indigenous women). As a result, complications associated with being born preterm are overrepresented among Indigenous populations.

Due to causing the death of newborns and leading to chronic disease in adults, the World Health Organisation has identified preterm birth as a priority area for research and program innovation.

What does the issue aim to do and how?

This research aims to develop nucleic acid therapeutics as a safe and effective approach for blocking the premature uterine contractions that lead to preterm birth. This includes (i) using nucleic acid therapeutics to preserve uterine smooth muscle cells in a relaxed state, thus preventing premature contractions from occurring in high-risk women, as well as (ii) using nucleic acid therapeutics to block existing contractions, as relevant to treating pregnant women that are already experiencing premature contractions.

To do this, we will deliver RNA therapeutics specifically to uterine smooth muscle cells using our patented nanoparticle-based, uterine-targeted drug delivery system.