A diabetes drug could offer hope to women suffering recurrent miscarriages, research suggests.
Scientists from the University of Warwick previously found a lack of stem cells in the womb lining may be behind thousands of lost pregnancies.
Stem cells - basic cells that can change into a more specialised cell - go on to create decidual cells, which support the placenta throughout pregnancy.
Gliptins, a new class of diabetes drug, have been shown to target an enzyme that “recruits” circulating stem cells to the uterus.
In the new study, the gliptin-treatment sitagliptin was given to women who had endured an average of five miscarriages each.
After taking the drug every day for three menstrual cycles, their stem cell count went up 68%, with the scientists claiming there were “no further losses of normal pregnancies”.
“There are very few effective treatments for miscarriage and this is the first that aims at normalising the womb before pregnancy,” study author Professor Jan Brosens said.
“Although miscarriages can be caused by genetic errors in the embryo, an abnormal womb lining causes the loss of chromosomal normal pregnancies.
“We hope this new treatment will prevent such losses and reduce both the physical and psychological burden of recurrent miscarriage.”
One in four women lose a baby during pregnancy or birth, according to the UK charity Tommy’s - which funded the study.
A recurrent miscarriage is defined as the loss of two or more consecutive pregnancies.
Additional miscarriages then reduce a woman’s hopes of ever successfully carrying a child.
To uncover if gliptins could help, the scientists gave 38 women - aged 18-to-42 - either an oral course of sitagliptin or a placebo.
Biopsies of the women’s wombs were taken at the start and end of the experiment to gauge stem cell numbers.
Results, published in the journal EBioMedicine, show those on sitagliptin experienced a 68% boost to their womb lining’s stem cell count.
The number of “stressed cells” in their uterus lining also halved.
Insufficient stem cells in the womb lining can make decidual cells “stressed” and inflamed, which may trigger placental bleeding and miscarriage.
When it comes to drug safety, side effects were reportedly “minimal”.
Although the study only looked at stem cells, the women were said to have gone on to have children.
“We have improved the environment that an embryo develops in and in doing so we hope to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy,” study author Professor Siobhan Quenby said.
“Although this research was specifically designed to test whether we could increase the presence of stem cells in the womb, follow-up of participants found there were no further losses of normal pregnancies in those who took sitagliptin.
“These are very early results and the treatment now needs to be further tested in a large-scale clinical trial.”
Professor Andrew Shennan, from King’s College London, added: “This is an exciting finding that suggests a drug may be able to improve the environment in the womb for some women with recurrent pregnancy losses.
“The numbers are small and don’t represent most women who have miscarriages - the participants studied were at very high risk for recurrent miscarriage.
“It does need more women to be studied but looks promising.”