Research carried out by the University of Kent with doctors on the neonatal unit at the William Harvey Hospital and Brunel University have provided further insight into the biology of premature birth, with findings that may have implications for treating premature babies.
The results of the research are now published in an article entitled Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts in PLOS One.
The team from the School of Biosciences led by Professor Darren Griffin set out to look for a genetic marker that might identify "at risk" children early in life so that they could embark on monitoring and treatment at an earlier opportunity.
Focusing on the telomeres - the caps at the end of the chromosomes that degrade as people age, they compared the length of telomeres in premature babies compared to babies born at the expected time.
Three groups of infants were studied:
1. 25 babies who were born prematurely (but were assayed at the time they should have been born)
2. 22 premature babies sampled at birth
3. 31 babies (sampled at birth) born at the expected time.
The expectation was that the first group would, genetically, appear more "aged" i.e. have shorter telomeres than the others. The findings were somewhat of a surprise in that, although there was some evidence of telomeres shortening over time in the premature babies, it was the normally born ones that had the shortest telomeres of all.
These results suggest that other, as yet undiscovered, factors may influence telomere length in premature infants and raises the intriguing idea that telomere shortening rate may be influenced by the degree of prematurity of the baby.
In any event, identification of genetic differences between premature and term-born infants may identify those at most risk and hence at greater need of treatment to mitigate problems that could occur later in life.
There are well-established problems associated with premature birth including respiratory, learning and developmental disorders, as well as the more recently discovered problems inlcuding hypertension, insulin resistance and altered body fat distribution. These latter problems may suggest early ageing in premature babies.
Studies suggest that these may persist into adult life, essentially mimicking early ageing and also posing a significant public health concern.
Preterm infants have significantly longer telomeres than their term born counterparts by Vimal Vasu, Kara Turner, Shermi George, John Greenall, Predrag Slijepcevic and Darren Griffin is published in in PLOS One.
For further information or interview requests contact Sandy Fleming at the University of Kent Press Office.
News releases can also be found at http://www.
University of Kent on Twitter: http://twitter.
Note to editors
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017; and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.