Five researchers from four states are investigating how genetics and infections interact to cause preterm birth as well as how proteins and hormones regulate a healthy pregnancy, all with the goal of giving more babies a healthy start in life, the March of Dimes announced today.
The researchers will study the role that fetal fibronectin, a protein, plays in triggering premature rupture of the membranes; and how progesterone, a hormone that has been shown to prevent preterm birth in some women, helps a healthy pregnancy.
Nearly half a million babies - one out of every nine - are born too soon each year in the United States. Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the nation $26 billion annually. It is the leading cause of neonatal death, and babies who survive an early birth have increased risks of lung disease, cerebral palsy and intellectual and developmental disabilities, problems that can affect their health throughout their lives.
In 2011, the US preterm birth rate dropped to 11.7, the lowest in a decade, but still above the March of Dimes goal of lowering the national rate to 9.6 percent. That goal can be achieved in part by applying known strategies to prevent preterm birth, such as smoking cessation programs, progesterone treatments, and reducing early elective deliveries, the March of Dimes says. But the organization also believes continued research is needed to yield new medical advances to meet the goal.
The grants are awarded for three years and brings the March of Dimes nine-year-old Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) Grant program's total grant to nearly $24 million. The PRI program is one of several March of Dimes grant programs available to researchers.
Jeffrey C. Murray, MD, at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, identified possible genes involved in preterm birth with the support of a prior March of Dimes PRI grant. This year, funding for his work has been renewed to allow him to build on his past discoveries with the goal of improving health care providers' ability to predict which women are at high risk of delivering their baby too soon.
Other new grant recipients are:
Louis Ragolia, PhD, director of Biomedical Research, Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola New York, who is focusing on prostaglandins, specialized lipids that mediate inflammation and play an important role in triggering labor at term, to identify women at risk of infection-related preterm delivery and develop drug treatment to prevent it.
Indira U. Mysorekar, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine; St. Louis, Missouri, who is working to identify how bacteria and other infection-causing microorganisms attack the placenta and contribute to preterm birth.
Francesco J. DeMayo, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, who is seeking to understand the role progesterone plays in suppressing contractions until term. The hormone has been shown to prevent premature delivery among about one-third of women with a singleton pregnancy.
Ruth Ann Word, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, is investigating the role of the protein fetal fibronectin in causing preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM), which is associated with 30 to 40 percent of preterm deliveries in the U.S
In 2013, the March of Dimes celebrates its 75th Anniversary and its ongoing work to help babies get a healthy start in life. Early research led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines that all babies still receive. Other breakthroughs include new treatments for premature infants and children with birth defects. About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, and all have benefitted the March of Dimes life saving research and education.
March of Dimes Foundation