A UT Southwestern Medical Center gynecologist is one of five researchers nationwide selected to receive a $600,000 Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant to investigate the biological mechanisms and causes of premature birth.
Dr. Mala S. Mahendroo, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biological Sciences, will use the support to develop a second harmonic generation imaging (SHG) endoscope to be used in vivo in animals, and eventually in women, to assess premature collagen changes that precede preterm birth.
"This grant will allow us to do molecular studies on the cervix and develop a clinical tool to identify women at risk for preterm birth," Dr. Mahendroo said.
According to medical experts, nearly 13 percent of births in the U.S. - more than one-half million annually - are preterm. Rates are even higher in African-American and obese populations. While a normal term delivery occurs at around 40 weeks, more than 70 percent of premature babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation.
The causes of preterm labor are not fully understood. Premature babies are at increased risk for newborn health complications such as breathing problems, underdeveloped organs and even death.
"Biological research is done in small steps," said John Burris, president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. "It is our hope that by funding creative, innovative research, new therapies will be developed."