Public Release:  New research seeks to prevent preterm birth with March of Dimes support

Grantees search for genetic links to predict and prevent premature birth

March of Dimes Foundation

WHITE PLAINS, NY, March 7, 2014 -- Five researchers seeking to understand the causes of premature birth with the goal of identifying women at risk of preterm labor and developing new treatments to prevent it have been awarded grant support from the March of Dimes.

The researchers, from the United States and Canada, are seeking to understand what role genetic variations, infection, fetal lung development and changes cervical ripening may play in triggering preterm labor. They have been awarded 2014 March of Dimes Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) Grants to advance their work in the prevention of premature birth.

More than 450,000 babies - one out of every nine - are born too soon each year in the U.S. Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the nation more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine, and the leading cause of newborn death. Babies who survive an early birth are at an increased risk for breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual and developmental disabilities, vision and hearing loss, and other lifelong health problems. In 2012, the U.S. preterm birth dropped to 11.5 percent rate, the lowest in 15 years, but still above the March of Dimes goal of 9.6 percent.

"Prevention is the way to save babies from the death and disability caused by preterm birth," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "Research is the key that will provide new insights into the many unknown causes of preterm labor, and help doctors recognize the women and babies most at risk."

The March of Dimes PRI grants total nearly $27 million over its 10-year history. The PRI grants are one of several March of Dimes grant programs available to researchers.

The 2014 PRI grantees include:

  • James Padbury, MD, of Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island in Providence, who is using bioinformatics and the findings of the Human Genome project to identify genetic variations and gene interactions to understand how they interact with a woman's environment to influence her risk of preterm birth.

  • Mala Mahendroo, PhD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is working to understand cervical changes and how they trigger labor. She hopes to identify key steps in normal cervical ripening, as well as differences that may be caused by infection and other factors that trigger preterm labor.

  • Carole R. Mendelson, PhD, of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is identifying proteins produced by the maturing fetal lungs that signal that the baby is ready to be born. A previous study found that one major lung protein, surfactant protein-A, acts as a hormonal signal that labor is beginning.

  • Stephen Lye, PhD, of the Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, is determining the effectiveness of probiotics as well as of a new class of drugs (broad spectrum chemokine inhibitors) in preventing inflammation and preterm birth associated with uterine infection. This research will build upon Dr. Lye's previous study that infection triggers inflammatory proteins that can help initiate uterine contractions.

  • Daniel Dufort, PhD, of McGill University in Montreal, is seeking to determine whether genetic mutations in a gene (Nodal) increase a woman's risk of preterm labor.

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The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. Find out how you can help raise funds to prevent premature birth and birth defects by walking in March for Babies at marchforbabies.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The 2014 March for Babies is sponsored nationally by the March of Dimes number one corporate supporter Kmart, Macy's, Famous Footwear, Cigna, Sanofi Pasteur, Mission Pharmacal, United Airlines, and Actavis.

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