Five innovative research projects aiming to prevent premature birth were announced today by the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children's.
The projects are funded through the Preventing Preterm Birth initiative, part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health. The initiative seeks to discover biological mechanisms that lead to preterm birth and develop innovative strategies for prevention, with particular focus on solutions relevant to low- and middle-income countries, where 99% of the world's infant deaths occur.
More than 320 applications were received from 50 countries, with the top five applications awarded grants of up to $2 million to fund their projects for 2-4 years.
"The volume and quality of applications we received are indicative of the widespread impact of preterm birth and the number of excellent researchers who are ready to tackle this global crisis," said Craig Rubens, MD, PhD, executive director of GAPPS. "These projects will greatly increase our knowledge of what causes premature birth, and hopefully catalyze additional resources and commitments to help make every birth a healthy birth."
Of the 15 million babies born too soon every year, more than 1 million die in infancy, making prematurity the second-leading cause of death for children under 5 worldwide. The burden in low- and middle-income countries is even more concerning, where sophisticated medical care is often not available. Throughout the world, many premature infants who survive face lifelong health complications such as asthma, cerebral palsy and developmental delays, making prevention paramount.
"Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for newborns, and the second leading cause of death in children before their fifth birthday, taking the lives of 1 million babies every year, affecting rich and poor countries alike," said Gary Darmstadt, Director of Family Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We urgently need new tools and need to develop new solutions to give every baby a healthy start to life. These new projects are a critical step on the path to preventing preterm birth."
The causes of preterm birth are often unknown and strategies for prevention are limited. The projects funded by the Preventing Preterm Birth initiative will advance discovery of the underlying causes of preterm birth, particularly how infection, inflammation, and immune and hormonal responses disrupt healthy pregnancies. This innovative agenda spans the research spectrum from bench science to field research in low-and middle income countries, all with a focus on translating research to action. The grant recipients include:
•Dr. David Aronoff of the University of Michigan, with an interdisciplinary team of experts in microbiology, immunology, reproductive biology, and vaccine development, will examine how infections of the female reproductive tract interact with and evade the immune system, resulting in infections of the uterus that cause preterm birth and stillbirth. This work will research potential targets for prevention of invasive infections of the female genital tract, including plans to investigate strains of group B Streptococcus (GBS) from low-income countries for vaccine and drug development.