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  • The March of Dimes was established by FDR to fight polio.
  • The mission focus was shifted to premature birth and birth defects.
  • Research breakthroughs have helped save thousands of babies.
    Franklin D. Roosevelt and Basil O'Connor count dimes at White House desk; 1944 Iron lung ward, Haynes Memorial Hospital; Boston, MA; 1955 Polio Pioneers, Salk polio vaccine field trial; 1954 Elvis Presley receives his polio inoculation to promote vaccination; 1956 Virginia Apgar, MD, creator of the Apgar Score; 1968 Beverly Sills, National Mothers March Chair; 1984 Isolette in newborn intensive care unit (NICU); 1990 Kelsey Adams, March of Dimes national ambassador, born healthy thanks to folic acid; 1999 March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign launch; January 30, 2003 March for Babies; 2009
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    Research breakthroughs timeline

    Immediately after it was founded in 1938, the March of Dimes established a system of committees to award research grants. The earliest grants in basic science, virology, and medicine stimulated research in the sciences and led to the development of the polio vaccines developed by Jonas Salk, MD and Albert Sabin, MD. With our mission change to birth defects prevention in 1958, the Foundation maintained its firm commitment to basic science but with a shift of focus to the clinical delineation of birth defects. Since then, the March of Dimes has supported research into the cellular and molecular basis of genetic diseases, developmental processes and abnormalities, and the epidemiology of premature birth to improve medical diagnosis and develop treatments for a wide range of birth defects and developmental disorders. March of Dimes research has led to improved prenatal diagnosis of sickle cell anemia, discovery of the genes for Marfan and Fragile X syndromes, and the development of pulmonary surfactant therapy to treat respiratory distress syndrome. Since 1973, the Basil O'Connor Starter Scholarship Research Awards have assisted promising young scientists at the beginnings of their careers in birth defects research. Our Prematurity Research Initiative has focused especially on genetics and gene-environment interactions relating to the causes of prematurity. The Foundation's investment in research has led to 13 scientists winning the Nobel Prize since 1954 whose original work was supported by March of Dimes research grants.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Who founded the March of Dimes?

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States.

    What was the original name of the March of Dimes?

    The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

    When did the March of Dimes change its mission to birth defects prevention?


    What is the March of Dimes mission today?

    To improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, infant mortality, and premature birth.

    Why did the March of Dimes change its mission to birth defects prevention?

    To "lead, direct, and unify" the fight against polio, a paralyzing viral disease.

    What March of Dimes publication led to regionalized neonatal intensive care?

    Toward Improving the Outcome of Pregnancy, published in 1976.

    What is the Apgar score?

    The Apgar score, created by Virginia Apgar, MD, is a simple test of five vital life-signs administered immediately after delivery.

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