Looking to the future


Correspondence: Dr R. Lamont, Northwick Park and St Mark's NHS Trust, Watford Road, Harrow, UK.


Since the 7th and 13th Study Groups of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists met in 1977 and 1985, respectively, no meeting of this magnitude has convened to discuss the problems of spontaneous preterm labour and delivery and the associated fetomaternal mortality and morbidity. In the 17 years or so since that time, advances have been made in our understanding of the mechanisms of labour, the role of infection, the benefit of antepartum corticosteroids and the development of safer more specific tocolytics. In the future, an understanding of the genetic risk of spontaneous preterm labour and preterm birth is essential, particularly with respect to the predisposition to produce potentially damaging pro-inflammatory cytokines. The examination of the tissue damage will require pathologists specifically trained in perinatal pathology if the aetiology is to be ascertained and future management tailored to the risks. A greater understanding of fetomaternal immunology and response to antigen exposure in pregnancy may help us to understand which fetomaternal pairs are at greatest risk of responding by delivering preterm, with greater or lesser tissue damage than others with similar risk. Specifically, the relation between spontaneous preterm labour and proteinuric pre-eclampsia with their common immunology, inflammatory response and tissue damage leading to either spontaneous preterm labour or iatrogenic preterm birth will need to be addressed. This meeting has been very clinically and obstetrically orientated, in future we will need to involve epidemiologists, neonatologists, microbiologists, genito-urinary medicine physicians, immunologists, geneticists, biochemists, physiologists and endocrinologists. Although spontaneous preterm labour and preterm birth are the major causes of perinatal mortality and morbidity in the developed world, the definition and management protocols for spontaneous preterm labour varies from unit to unit and country to country. A process has already begun, hopefully fuelled by this meeting and those attending, to develop an international consensus on definitions and evidence-based practical guidelines on the management of spontaneous preterm labour. Perhaps in the longer term it may be possible to influence standards of care, outcome measures and training across international boundaries.