Professor Roger Smith AM and his team at the Hunter Medical Research Institute have found that a rapidly ageing placenta is often to blame.
“As you look around at everybody you know, you’ll notice that different people age at different rates,” Professor Smith told the ABC. “And it’s almost certainly the same with the placenta. Some placentas age more rapidly than others.”
Professor Smith found that some placentas begin to deteriorate weeks before the baby’s due date, thereby depriving the baby of the nutrients and oxygen it desperately needs.
Ageing placentas emit aldehyde oxidase, an enzyme that Professor Smith hopes doctors will one day be able to detect in pregnant women.
“It’s possible that we’ll be able to develop diagnostic tests to pick up in the mother’s blood the signs of ageing of the placenta, and therefore predict this devastating event, so that the obstetricians can perform a caesarean section and get the baby out before the baby dies,” he told the ABC.
Professor Smith is now working on developing such a test, a process he believes could take within three to five years.
His study on placenta ageing will be published in the American Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynaecology in November.