MacKenzie and her UCSF colleagues have shown that, in mice at least, pregnancy complications after fetal surgery are triggered by activation of the mother's T cells – the same T cells that cause the body to reject a donor organ after transplant surgery
"Here at UCSF, the birthplace of fetal surgery, preterm labor has been described as the ‘Achilles' heel' of the field because it diminishes the benefit of the surgery itself," said MacKenzie, an associate professor of surgery and director of research at the UCSF Fetal Treatment Center. "However, specific treatments have not been developed because until now, the biological triggers responsible for preterm birth have been unknown."
If the same fetal rejection mechanism is occurring in humans, she said, "we have the ability to design specific medical treatments to prevent it – for example, by using medications that target some of the pathways involved in T cell-mediated rejection."
The study was published online on January 15, 2014, in the Journal of Immunology and will be printed in the February 15 issue.