A drug used to treat diabetes could help women who have suffered repeated miscarriages to have a baby.
Around one in a hundred couples trying to fall pregnant can suffer recurrent miscarriage, which is defined as having three or more miscarriages in a row. In half of cases there is no identifiable cause.
Research by a team at Warwick Medical School and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire have shown diabetes medication sitagliptin helps to increase the number of stem cells in the lining of the womb, which can help create the right conditions for a healthy pregnancy.
Sitagliptin is a drug more commonly prescribed in tablet form to treat type 2 diabetes by increasing the amount of insulin in the blood.
Researchers are now looking to test the drug as part of a large scale clinical trial after the research, published in EBioMedicine, showed it could work.
The study used 38 women aged 18 to 42 who had experienced several miscarriages, with an overall average in the group of five miscarriages.
They were given either an oral course of sitagliptin or a placebo for three menstrual cycles, with biopsies taken at the start and end of the treatment to measure the number of stem cells.
The results showed an average increase in stem cells of 68 per cent in women who received a full course of sitagliptin. This compares with no significant increase in the placebo group.
If clinical trials prove successful it would be the first treatment targeted specifically at the lining of the womb to prevent miscarriage.
Previous research by the Warwick team revealed that a lack of stem cells in the womb can cause women to suffer recurrent miscarriage. Stem cells protect specialised cells, which are called decidual cells.
Professor Jan Brosens, of Warwick Medical School and a consultant in reproductive health at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, said: "There are currently very few effective treatments for miscarriage and this is the first that aims at normalising the womb before pregnancy.
"Although miscarriages can be caused by genetic errors in the embryo, an abnormal womb lining causes the loss of chromosomal normal pregnancies. We hope that this new treatment will prevent such losses and reduce both the physical and psychological burden of recurrent miscarriage."
The study was carried out at the Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research.
Jane Brewin, the charity's chief executive, said: "For far too long it has often been said by many health professionals that miscarriage is not preventable, and parents have been left with little hope given the paucity of treatment options available.
"This breakthrough research by the world-leading team at Warwick shows great promise for an effective treatment which will reduce miscarriage and possibly later pregnancy loss too. A large-scale trial is needed to verify the findings and we hope that this will get underway quickly."