A new study funded by Genesis Research Trust and NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre has discovered that the use of thicker surgical thread used during what is known as a cervical stitch procedure could be increasing the risk of preterm birth and baby death.

Researchers analysed 671 women across the UK who had received the cervical stitch procedure in order to try and prevent miscarriage or preterm birth.

The cervical cerclage is performed on around two million women a year globally and is offered to women who may be at risk of having a miscarriage or delivering their baby early. The procedure involves stitching the cervix in order to keep it closed to help avoid complications. Once the cervix is stitched closed this will act as a barrier and help to protect against infection which may be harmful to the mother and baby.

Surgeons currently use two different types of thread to stitch the cervix, the majority use a thicker thread, and around 20% use a thinner thread.

The study shows that the use of the thicker thread is associated with a three-fold increase in the rate of death of the baby within the womb compared to the use of the thinner thread. The thicker thread is also increasing the chances of premature birth. The study shows that the thicker material woven together to make the thread could be encouraging dangerous bacteria.

Cervical stitch threads

Professor Philip Bennett, Director of the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, trustee of Genesis Research Trust and lead author of the study commented: “Although the cervical stitch procedure still holds benefits for women overall, our results suggest the thicker thread may encourage the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria in the cervix. This may lead to premature birth or even loss of the baby. We strongly advise that the thicker thread – which is currently used in the majority of procedures – only be used in a research setting whilst we thoroughly investigate the risks this may hold.”

Dr David MacIntyre, scientific lead of the study had this to say: “At the beginning of the trial, all women had similar types of naturally-occurring bacteria, called Lactobacillus, in their birth canal and around their cervix. However four weeks after the procedure 45 per cent of the women who received the thicker thread had these harmless bacteria replaced with potentially dangerous bacteria that have previously been associated with poor outcomes during pregnancy, like preterm birth and infection in babies. Women who received the thinner thread maintained normal levels of harmless Lactobacillus bacteria in the birth canal or cervix.”

Premature birth is the most common cause of babies dying in Britain. 1 in 18 babies in the UK is born prematurely and 1 in 4 babies are miscarried. This discovery is a step towards making those statistics a thing of the past.



You can read the full article in Science Translational Medicine

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