Premature labour (PTL) is the single most significant factor contributing to neonatal morbidity in Europe with enormous attendant healthcare and social costs. Consequently, it remains a major challenge to alleviate the cause and impact of this condition. Our ability to improve the diagnosis and treatment of women most at risk of PTL is, however, actually hampered by an incomplete understanding of the ways in which the functions of the uterine myocyte are integrated to effect an appropriate biological response at the multicellular whole organ system. The level of organization required to co-ordinate labouring uterine contractile effort in time and space can be considered immense. There is a multitude of what might be considered mini-systems involved, each with their own regulatory feedback cycles, yet they each, in turn, will influence the behaviour of a related system. These include, but are not exclusive to, gestational-dependent regulation of transcription, translation, post-translational modifications, intracellular signaling dynamics, cell morphology, intercellular communication and tissue level morphology.
We propose that in order to comprehend how these mini-systems integrate to facilitate uterine contraction during labour (preterm or term) we must, in concert with biological experimentation, construct detailed mathematical descriptions of our findings. This serves three purposes: firstly, providing a quantitative description of series of complex observations; secondly, proferring a database platform that informs further testable experimentation; thirdly, advancing towards the establishment of a virtual physiological uterus and in silico clinical diagnosis and treatment of PTL.