Exploring the causes of premature childbirth


Published: 12Apr1999

Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc., a leader in women’s health research in Canada, announced recently the award of one of its four clinical research chairs in women’s health to Dr Hans Zingg of McGill University, to advance research in reproductive endocrinology.

"The whole process of parturition is very much like a symphony ," says Dr Hans Zingg, holder of the first Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc. Clinical Research Chair in Women’s Health (reproductive endocrinology)." It is very hard to distinguish which one of the hormones secreted by the fetus, the placenta and the mother, plays first fiddle in this concert which normally ends in the crescendo of birth."

Unfortunately, from time to time, the mechanisms by which hormones stimulate contractions of the uterus start too early in the pregnancy -- well before the fetus is ready to come into this world. Each year, thousands of newborns die either before delivery or during the first 27 days of life. Furthermore, in too many instances, premature infants who survive remain permanently handicapped. All this because one of the hormonal mechanisms which stimulate contractions of the uterus went awry.

No satisfactory therapy is currently available to stop premature contractions. Available therapies may at best delay labor by one to seven days but it is often not enough to save the baby. Dr Zingg and his team in the Endocrinology Division of the Royal Victoria Hospital are currently investigating the mechanisms by which certain hormones, specifically a hormone called oxytocin, activate uterine contractions. "This includes exploring the mechanisms by which oxytocin and other hormones interact with specific membrane receptors located at the surface of uterine cells," explained Dr Zingg. Having already discovered novel mechanisms by which these interactions can be modulated Dr Zingg and his team will exploit these processes to develop novel therapeutic approaches to inhibit uterine contractions.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us, recognizing the responsibility the pharmaceutical industry has in supporting high quality medical research in Canada," said Dr Aldo Baumgartner, President and CEO of Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc. -- a research-oriented pharmaceutical company working in the areas of women’s healthcare, cardiovascular and metabolic disease therapies, central nervous system drugs, anti-inflammatory agents and vaccines.

Dr Bernard Leduc, Vice-President of Research for Wyeth-Ayerst, highlighted reproductive endocrinology as an area of clinical research for "which the medical community needs more information in order to advance the level of care and treatment options for women."

"It is indeed Dr Zingg’s outstanding contribution to the advancement of knowledge in reproductive endocrinology which brought the peer reviewers of the Medical Research Council University-Industry Committee to award him one of the four Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc. clinical research chairs in women’s health, " says Dr Denis Roy, Vice President of the MRC and Director of Professional Services and Hospital Services of the McGill University Health Centre.

Dr Abraham Fuks, Dean of the McGill Faculty of Medicine, praised the creation of the four Wyeth-Ayerst Canada Inc. Clinical Research Chairs in Women’s Health as a significant contribution to supporting researchers. "It is an important recognition of the world-class talent which exists in Canada," he noted.