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: