Tolu Temowo

Supervisor: David Olson

Project: Is the fetus involved in initiating its own delivery?

“When the child of the ‘now’ is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, then the generation of the ‘future' will also be healthy.”

Over decades of research, scientists have discovered what triggers labour in many different types of animals. In some animals, including mice, the start signal comes from the mother. In others, including sheep, the fetus decides when it's time to be born. In humans, we do not know what initiates labour. 

Previous research suggests that multiple signals from the mother and fetus work together to start labour and delivery. The human fetal membranes form the sac in which the fetus develops, and this sac is filled with amniotic fluid. Just before labour, the fetal membranes release signaling molecules called chemokines that tell the mother's white blood cells to move into the uterus to prepare for labour. The growing fetus continuously takes in and expels amniotic fluid. Any compound the fetus makes and releases can directly contact the fetal membranes. 

Surfactant is a compound produced by the fetal lungs during the last half of pregnancy. Our lungs need surfactant to breathe air, prevent our lungs from collapsing, and help block infections. We believe large quantities of surfactant in the amniotic fluid help start labour. 

In this project, we will study if surfactant released by the fetus can activate the mother's fetal membranes to start releasing chemokines. We will take small sections of fetal membrane tissues collected from donated placentas after cesarean sections and treat them with amniotic fluid alone, surfactant alone, or both. We will look at the quantity of chemokines released and how many white blood cells migrate toward these fetal membranes after each treatment. 

This study will help us learn more about how human labour starts, which is important so that we can design better diagnostic tests for pregnant women and their babies.

Tolu Temowo was supervised by David Olson and her summer studentship was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation. She is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Honors in Physiology program.