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March of Dimes - Rhode Island Chapter

220 West Exchange St. #003

Providence, RI  02903

(401) 454-1911

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    March of Dimes Provides $3 Million in New Funding for Preterm Birth Research

    Sara Hyde-Lampa, State Director of Communications, March of Dimes, (415)271-6371, shyde-lampa@marchofdimes.com

    California Scientists Aim to Make Strides in Predicting and Preventing Preterm Birth

    San Francisco, CA, February 17, 2012 —

    With the help of funding from the March of Dimes, two researchers from California are studying preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure, and how the mother’s immune system may trigger preterm labor after an infection – all with the goal of preventing preterm birth so more babies will get a healthy start in life.

     Nihar Ranjan Nayak, DVM, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Stanford University School of Medicine and Tippi C. MacKenzie, MD, assistant professor, Department of Surgery, Division of Pediatric Surgery and Fetal Treatment Center, University of California, San Francisco, are two of seven scientists whose work will be supported by March of Dimes Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) grants. The 2012 grants of almost $3 million bring the eight-year-old program’s total to more than $22 million.

    Dr. Nayak is seeking to understand how the interaction of two genes in the placenta may contribute to preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure that contributes to about 15 percent of premature births. Preeclampsia can be fatal and and the only effective treatment is early delivery.

    Dr. MacKenzie is investigating the role of specific maternal immune system cells in preterm labor following uterine infection. Infection and the resulting inflammation is an important cause of preterm labor, though exactly how infection may trigger labor is poorly understood.

     “More than $13 million in March of Dimes grants are given to researchers in California.” said March of Dimes California Chapter State Program Services Committee Chair, James Byrne, M.D. “These latest research investments, combined with other major research initiatives already underway in our state, will make a real difference in our fight for the health of moms and babies.”

    Preterm birth, birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, remains a leading cause of infant death in the United States. Infants who survive an early birth are more likely to face serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy.

    Following three decades of increases, in 2010 the United States saw the first four-year decline in the preterm birth rate, to 11.99 percent. Despite the improvement, nearly half a million babies are born too soon each year, the March of Dimes notes. The March of Dimes has set a goal of lowering the nation’s preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent by 2020. The goal was set by estimating the maximum achievable benefits of applying known strategies to prevent preterm birth, such as smoking cessation programs, progesterone treatments for medically eligible women, and others, but recognized that continued research is needed to yield new medical advances. 

    In addition to Dr. Nayak and Dr. MacKenzie, the 2012 PRI grant recipients are: 

    • Sarah K. England, PhD, professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Basic Science Research, at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, who is researching how mutations to a gene that regulates tiny openings in cell membranes that allow potassium to flow out of uterine muscle cells affect preterm labor. When potassium exits the cells, the uterus relaxes, allowing the pregnancy to continue. A genetic mutation may cause the cell membranes to close early, preventing the potassium from leaving the uterus, triggering preterm labor. ·        

    • Jennifer Catherine Condon, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, who is investigating the role of endoplasmic reticulum in regulating an enzyme called caspase-3. Low levels of caspase-3 may trigger preterm labor. If so, it may be possible to develop drugs to regulate enzyme levels and prevent preterm labor. ·        

    • Judith T. Zelikoff, PhD, professor, Department of Environmental Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, who is investigating if there is a cause and effect relationship between air pollution and the risk of preterm delivery.         

    • Sudhansu K. Dey, PhD, professor and Lova Riekert Chair, Department of Reproductive Sciences, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, who is investigating chemicals that regulate inflammation after a uterine infection to understand how they may contribute to preterm labor.   ·        

    • Sylvain Chemtob, MD, PhD, professor, departments of Pediatrics and Pharmacology, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center, Montreal, who is investigating how proteins in the uterine wall may contribute to preterm labor.              

    The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.  With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies®, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  

    The March for Babies is presented locally by Sutter Health. To join an event near you, visit marchforbabies.org.

    PDF version of this press release.

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