One of the leading causes of premature labor is ruptured membranes. There are a variety of reasons why the “bag of waters” ruptures too early, but once the bag has broken the pregnancy must end within a short period to prevent fetal infection and other possible complications. If premature rupture of membranes happens before the 24th week of gestation, the chance of survival for the fetus is extremely low. Even if the fetus does survive, there could be life-long developmental delays, physical and mental impairments. Instead of standing by and watching as a baby is born much too early, researchers have developed a patch to repair ruptured membranes and keep baby in-utero longer.

At the Reading School of Pharmacy, researchers Dr. Che Connon, Dr. Anna David and Dr. Adam Squires developed a patch made from human stem cells. The patch is inserted into the body via keyhole surgery. When placed over the rupture, the cells start to grow and repair the hole. Previous attempts included using latex, which did not hold up. This time around, the natural material used in the membrane patch is nearly identical to the female’s own membranes and should be tough enough to hold the wound closed.

With the development stages complete, researchers are just awaiting the start of clinical trials. It is estimated that trials will start in 2013 and progress through animal stages into human stages within two years. The final release date of the membrane patch is clearly a ways in the future, but developers are estimating the patch will be ready for clinical use as early as 2016.

Pregnancy membranes can rupture early due to infection, injury, multiple pregnancy and other factors. There is no mention of what types of rupture will be treated with the membrane patch and what ruptures will be left untreated. We assume these guidelines will be set after clinical trials are complete. There is also the possibility of using the membrane patch to prevent early rupture of membranes, in certain cases.

If a pregnant woman requires amniocentesis, the small pinhole can lead to early rupture of membranes. Theoretically, the patch could be placed over the pinhole to re-enforce the bag of waters to prevent early delivery.

Source: Dr. Che Connon. Tissue Engineering.