Researchers from Texas A&M University in San Antonio and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute recently participated in a Chicago College of Nursing-led study that may have discovered clues on how medical science can reduce stillbirths in human mothers by analyzing marmoset monkeys, a type of small monkey originally from South America.
According to the new research, the female marmoset, which reaches sexual maturity by the age of 15 months and typically gives birth many times throughout its life, frequently litters twins or triplets. The key factor in this trend, according to researchers, is the prenatal environment in which the female marmoset develops her fetus — a process that appears to impact reproductive success in adulthood.
In fact, the research revealed that females who were born as triplets or as twins frequently are impregnated, however, females born into triplet litters lose their babies three times more frequently than marmosets born as twins or singly.
In addition, half of the deaths in the female population of marmosets occur during labor and delivery, as explained Dr. Julienne Rutherford, assistant professor of women, children, and family health science at UIC and lead author of the study, which was published in PLOS ONE.
The researchers discovered that female marmosets who shared the womb with a brother also lost more fetuses than ones who developed with only sisters. The “brother effect,” which has yet to be explained, may mean than the female is exposed to male hormones during fetal development, writes Rutherford, reinforcing what was already verified by scholars: human reproduction and stillbirth is determined by physiological events that females experience throughout all life, including before adulthood.
Researchers analyzed data from Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, studying the birth conditions of 1,395 animals from both sexes through more than a decade. Rutherford believes this research may be the start of understanding more about human stillbirth.
The study also focused on pregnancy loss and circumstances; the woman’s health at the time of delivery; nutritional status; race; income; and lifestyle. “Taken together, these factors explain a large portion of pregnancy loss, but not all,” Rutherford said. “Our study suggests we need to consider a woman’s entire life history, including her experience as a fetus herself, to solve the mystery of childbirth.”
Continuing studies may lead to new ways to diagnose and treat human reproductive dysfunction based on developmental milestones. For her part, Rutherford will now study the environment that society provides to babies, girls, and women.
In addition to Dr. Corinna Ross of Texas A&M University in San Antonio and Dr. Suzette Davis Tardif of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Dr. Victoria deMartelly of Emory University and Dr. Donna Layne Colon of the Southwest National Primate Research Center also participated in the study. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health.