On this page, we tell you about four miscarriage research studies:
- RESPONSE – a new trial starting in June 2014 to test a new medicine
- TABLET – the ongoing trial into thyroid antibodies and miscarriage
- PROMISE – background on the progesterone trial whose results are expected to be published towards the end of the year
- a new study testing a psychological coping tool
We also include an interesting discussion: Talking about research.
The RESPONSE trial
The RESPONSE trial is testing a new medication, called NT100, in women with unexplained repeated miscarriages. They want to find out if it improves the chances of maintaining a successful pregnancy, if there are any side effects of the medicine and if it is easy to use.
NT100 is a man-made form of a protein called G-CSF (granulocyte colony-stimulating factor). G-CSF is a naturally occurring protein in the female reproductive tract.
RESPONSE is a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial:
Randomised: The women who take part will be given either the treatment medicine (NT100) or a placebo – a dummy drug that has no active ingredients. A computer makes the selection so it’s completely random.
Double-blind The women in the trial won’t be told whether they are taking the active medicine (NT100) or the placebo – and neither will their doctors. So both are “blinded” to this information.
Placebo-controlled Half of the women in the study will have the active medicine and half the placebo (they are called the control group). The medication that they receive will look exactly the same to them and their doctors, but a completely separate study group will keep a record of which women have NT100 and which have the placebo.
If you might be interested in taking part in the RESPONSE trial, here’s what you need to know
Who can take part
You may be eligible for the RESPONSE trial if you:
- are between 18 and 37 years old
- have had three or more unexplained miscarriages:
- it doesn’t matter if they were consecutive (one after the other) or not but
- at least two of the miscarriages were pregnancies that were confirmed by ultrasound
- want to try for another pregnancy.
What the trial involves
Women taking part in the trial will need to use ovulation tests and urine pregnancy tests while trying to conceive. These will be given to you by the research study team.
Once you are pregnant, you will need to make up to 12 clinic visits during your pregnancy. You will be able to claim back reasonable travel expenses, such as public transport or parking costs.
Which hospitals are taking part
The following hospitals are already recruiting patients:
- Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Women’s Hospital
- South Tyneside District Hospital
- James Cook University Hospital, Middlesborough
- Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey
- Royal Victoria Hospital, Newcastle
- and another 12 or so hospitals will also start recruiting over the next few months. For more information about the hospitals recruiting and how to get in touch, please visit the trial website.
If you have any questions that are not medical or scientific and more about feelings or concerns about the trial, do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01924 200799.
The TABLET trial
The TABLET trial is an important research study which is looking at the role of thyroid antibodies in women with unexplained miscarriage.
The researchers are particularly interested in seeing whether a drug called Levothyroxine reduces the risk of miscarriage in women who have thyroid antibodies even through their thyroid hormones are in the normal range.
The researchers want to screen and recruit as many women as possible so they can be sure that numbers are big enough to make the eventual results reliable.
Screening The first step is to screen women who have either had a miscarriage or unexplained infertility, to see whether they have thyroid antibodies. That’s useful information for anyone and helps identify women who need immediate treatment.
The women who test positive but don’t need treatment are then invited to enter the trial.
TABLET is a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial:
Randomised The women who take part will be given either the treatment drug (Levothyroxine) or a placebo – a dummy drug that has no active ingredients. A computer makes the selection so it’s completely random.
Double-blind The women in the study won’t be told whether they are taking the active medicine or the placebo – and neither will their doctors. So both are blinded to this information.
Placebo-controlled Half the women in the study will have the active medicine and half (the controls) will have the placebo. The medicine that they receive will look exactly the same to them and their doctors, but a completely separate group will keep a record of which women have Levothyroxine and which have the placebo.
If you might be interested in taking part in the TABLET trial, here’s what you need to know:
Who can take part?
The researchers are recruiting women who:
- are aged 16 – 40
- hope to conceive in the next year
- have had a previous miscarriage or are due to have fertility treatment
- do not have known thyroid disease – and
- are willing to be selected at random to have either the treatment or a placebo, without knowing which they are given.
Where is it taking place?
The following hospitals are currently recruiting patients:
- Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral
- Basildon Hospital
- Birmingham Heartlands Hospital
- Birmingham Women’s Hospital
- Bradford Royal Infirmary
- City Hospital, Birmingham
- Countess of Chester Hospital
- Crosshouse Hospital, Ayrshire
- Derby Hospital
- Derriford Hospital, Plymoth
- Durham Hospital
- Ealing Hospital, London
- Frimley Park Hospital
- Guy’s Hospital, London
- James Cook Hospital, Middlesbrough
- Kings College Hospital, London
- Liverpool Women’s Hospital
- Newham University Hospital
- Ormskirk Hospital
- Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham
- Royal Bolton Hospital
- Royal Bournemouth Hospital
- Royal London Hospital
- St Bartholomew’s Hospital
- St James’s Hospital, Leeds
- St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester
- St Mary’s Hospital, London
- St Michael’s Hospital, Bristol
- St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey
- St Thomas’s Hospital, London
- University College Hospital, London
- University Hospital, Coventry
- Warrington Hospital
- Watford General Hospital
- Whipps Cross Hospital
- Wrightington Hospital
There is also information on the trial website.
If you would like more information or you wish to join the trial, please contact the TABLET office at email@example.com.
If you have other questions or concerns about the trial, you can contact Krys Baker, the trial co-ordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or TABLET research fellow Dr Rima Dhillon at email@example.com.
If your questions are less medical/scientific and more about feelings or concerns, do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01924 200799.
The PROMISE trial (due to report in October 2014)
What is it?
The PROMISE (progesterone in miscarriage treatment) trial is a major research study that aims to find out whether having progesterone supplements in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy reduce miscarriage risk in women with previous unexplained recurrent loss.
Like TABLET, it is a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Unlike TABLET, it is no longer recruiting patients, because they now have enough women who have taken part to make the eventual results reliable.
We look forward to reading the results.
A personal view
Our thanks to one of the members of our support forum, who has allowed us to reprint her message to another member regarding the PROMISE trial.
I just thought I would drop you a line as I did the Promise trial in June. It was easy – they just ask past history questions etc. and if you fit the criteria, when you get pregnant, you let them know asap and they request the medication. It is random, so the details are put into the computer which selects what you are having, either placebo or progesterone. As Ruth has already mentioned, you won’t know what you are getting.
You take 2 pessaries in the morning and 2 on the night and although it’s not pleasant, it’s not bad and after a day or two it soon becomes the norm.
Unfortunately for me it didn’t work. However, my first 5 miscarriages were all at 5 1/2 weeks and I went to 6.5 weeks this time. I don’t know what I took – I could have had the placebo. I can’t find out until the whole trial ends, so that will be interesting.
Although it didn’t work for me, I don’t regret doing it at all and would do it again (except you can’t take the trial more than once), As I see it, it can’t hurt and as far as my trial went, yes it didn’t help me, but if it has helped any women in the future going through what all we are, then it was well worth it.
A different kind of study
Much of the current research into recurrent miscarriage focuses on trying to find out more about the possible causes and potential treatment of this condition. Sarah Bailey describes a different type of research study which is looking at trying to improve the psychological wellbeing of women who have suffered recurrent miscarriage.
We know that when women who have experienced recurrent miscarriage become pregnant again, feelings of worry and anxiety are common as they are frightened that they will suffer yet another miscarriage. Despite this there is often limited support for these women available from health professionals and many are left to cope alone with their worries.
The main aim of this study is to explore whether a coping strategy (a sort of self-help card) developed for a similar group of women would be acceptable and useful to women suffering recurrent miscarriage. We want to see if it reduces the anxiety and worry they experience during the early stages of any new pregnancies.
We are also hoping to find out more about how women who have experienced recurrent miscarriage feel during the first few weeks of a new pregnancy: what their thoughts and feelings are, what helps them manage their anxieties and anything that makes it worse. It is important for us as health professionals to understand this better, so we are able to try and develop services to meet women’s needs.
This research study is currently running in Southampton and Portsmouth Hospitals, so unfortunately at the moment, only open to women attending these units. However there is a chance that in the future this study will run on a wider basis.
Sarah Bailey, NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow
Talking about research
Ruth interviews Professor Arri Coomarasamy , Consultant Gynaecologist and Sub-specialist in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Birmingham Women’s Hospital
RBA: Arri, most people who’ve been through miscarriage wish that we knew more about why it happens and how we might prevent it. Is that your experience too?
AC: When I see patients who have had a miscarriage, they generally have two questions: why did it happen? How can we stop it happening again? We are developing a reasonable understanding of why miscarriages happen, although it may be difficult to work out the reasons for a specific couple.
RBA: I know you think research can help, especially trials of certain treatments. Can you say something about that?
AC: The question about how we may prevent miscarriage is the tougher one to answer, although it is possibly the most important question for the couple. Some early studies sometimes suggest a benefit with this or that medicine, but when we eventually study that medicine carefully, we may find that it doesn’t work, or even worse, it is actually harmful.
RBA: Can you give me an example?
AC: A good example of this is aspirin. We use it for women with sticky blood conditions such as antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), and it works to reduce miscarriage in those women. However, even when there is no evidence of a ‘sticky blood’ condition, many clinicians have recommended it and women have diligently taken aspirin in the hope that it will reduce the risk of miscarriage. But when this question was properly researched, the shocking finding was that aspirin resulted in more miscarriages compared with taking the dummy tablets.
Only research can uncover such important findings that help guide treatment for women with miscarriage.
RBA: Hang on a minute. Are you saying that aspirin can increase the risk of miscarriage? And if so, in all women? Or just the ones who don’t have APS or other sticky blood conditions? That’s pretty scary!
AC: This is right, Ruth, it is scary… how a treatment given with best of intentions could achieve exactly the opposite of what was expected. However, I must emphasise: for women with sticky blood conditions, the available evidence is that they will benefit from aspirin and heparin, and if their doctors prescribe these, then it would be a good idea to take them.
However, if there is no evidence of a sticky blood condition, women are well advised to keep a mile away from aspirin, unless their doctor prescribes it to them for some other reason.
RBA: That’s really important information, Arri – thank you for highlighting it.
To go back to the question of research. I imagine some of it, like trying to find out the causes of miscarriage, doesn’t directly involve patients – that is, they don’t take an active part in the research except, perhaps, for allowing blood or tissue samples to be analysed.
Arri: This is correct Ruth. We often do what is known as ‘basic science’ or ‘bench’ research in the laboratories to understand the science behind why miscarriages occur and how a treatment may work. This research does not normally involve patients directly, but relies on the blood or tissue samples.
Such research is really important to find out potential new therapies, which can then be tested in clinical trials. As an example of this, we are currently studying the blood of women with thyroid antibodies to see if there is an immunological cause for miscarriage in these patients. If we unearth important findings here, this may help us develop and test potentially important therapies.
RBA: That’s good to know. And you are also involved in some clinical research trials where you are looking at the effects of certain treatments – like aspirin. Some of them, like the PROMISE (progesterone) and TABLET (thyroxine) trial, are randomised controlled trials, or RCTs. Can you explain what these terms mean?
Arri: Sure. It is really important to evaluate treatments in high quality studies, so that patients and their doctors can be confident that the treatment does really work. The highest quality studies for doing this are called randomised controlled studies, or RCTs.
PROMISE and TABLET are randomised controlled studies. In PROMISE, women will receive either progesterone or a placebo – that is, something that looks like the real treatment but doesn’t have any active ingredients. Neither the doctor nor the patient knows if the patient is taking progesterone or placebo tablets. Only after the study has been completed will we know which treatment a patient was taking.
This is important to avoid any ‘biases’, so that if the study shows that progesterone works, then we can be confident that it does really work. Equally, if the PROMISE trial shows progesterone does not work, then we can be confident that it does not work. Patients and doctors need to have confidence in the treatment that they receive and provide, and RCTs gives everyone confidence in the results of a study.
RBA: You’re saying that if patient or doctor knows whether they are having the real treatment or the placebo, then that could cause a bias, make a difference to the outcome. Why? How?
Arri: It is possible that the doctor could consciously influence the outcome of a study, say by promoting one treatment over another or over the placebo. The doctor may offer additional care for patients in one group, and this could influence and prejudice the results.
In fact, there doesn’t even need to be a conscious influence. There is evidence that if we know who is in the treatment group, we may even unconsciously influence the findings and let all sorts of biases creep in. Patients and doctors need trustworthy evidence, and a study which is not properly randomised or blinded may not produce trustworthy evidence.
RBA: Hmm. Thinking about it, though, if I had had repeated miscarriages and nobody knew why – AND if there’s a treatment which is being tried out – I don’t know that I’d want to risk being given the placebo drug and possibly missing out on a good treatment. Why shouldn’t I just go out and find someone who’ll prescribe the treatment?
Arri: This is a very reasonable concern. However, you must then remember that the whole reason for doing a study is because we do not genuinely know if a treatment works! If we thought it did, then we would be prescribing it.
Sometimes we think we know the answer, but then you only have to look at the aspirin story to realise that rushing in and taking a treatment without good evidence can actually cause harm. In fact, if it weren’t for the women who willingly took part in that research, we may have unwittingly continued to cause harm.
RBA: I suppose there might also be people who are anxious about taking the treatment in case of possible harm or side-effects.
Arri: This is true. However, any clinical study goes through rigorous assessment to ensure the study is ethical and does not cause harm to the patients. Moreover, as the study is conducted, there is continual assessment to ensure there is no emerging evidence of serious harm to mothers or babies. This task is carried out by an independent body called the Data Monitoring Committee. This should give reassurance to patients in a study.
RBA: I’ve just got one more question, Arri, going back to the idea of the psychological aspects of being in a trial. I understand that there is some evidence that just taking part in a clinical trial can improve outcomes, whether women are taking the treatment or the placebo. It might be to do with having extra care and monitoring, perhaps. Is this really true?
Arri: This is correct, although there is some controversy over this. What is true is that patients taking part in trials do tend to get additional care and monitoring, and there is of course some evidence that enhanced care can have a positive impact in reducing miscarriage risks. I certainly think that trials such as PROMISE and TABLET have very little scope for harm, while carrying a potential chance for benefit.
RBA: So overall, it looks like taking part in clinical trials on miscarriage can be a really positive thing to do. It helps us to work out which treatments are effective and which should be avoided because they either don’t work or are positively harmful. That’s a great gift to others who go through the sadness of miscarriage.
What’s more, it looks like even if the treatment doesn’t turn out to be effective, just being in the trial can itself be helpful. Now that’s a bonus.
Thank you very much, Arri.