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Infant health research

  • Goal: to prevent infant and childhood health problems.
  • We’re studying the effects of maternal health issues.
  • Research grants fund the development of new treatments.
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Infant health research sample grants

Gautam Dantas, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, is investigating whether treating very low birthweight babies with specific antibiotics disturbs beneficial bacteria in the intestines and increases the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious intestinal disorder, and sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection. This study could lead to safer antibiotic regimens for these babies.

Fumiko Hamada, PhD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, is investigating whether a gene, which appears to help regulate normal body temperature fluctuations and healthy sleep, may play a role in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This study could lead to treatments that help prevent SIDS.

Ke Hu, PhD, Indiana University in Bloomington, is seeking to identify proteins in the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis that allow it to invade and destroy cells, sometimes causing birth defects. Pregnant women can pass the infection to their babies, sometimes causing intellectual disabilities and vision loss. The goal is to develop drugs to prevent toxoplasmosis-related birth defects.

Danwei Huangfu, PhD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, is studying cells that give rise to specialized pancreatic cells that produce insulin in order to develop new treatments for juvenile (type 1) diabetes. Children with juvenile diabetes produce little or no insulin and require life-long treatment with insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

Jun Hee Kim, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is studying how auditory nerves, which are involved with hearing and sound processing in the brain, may be damaged by lack of oxygen before or soon after premature birth. Her goal is to prevent auditory nerve damage and any language and learning problems that may result from it. 

Eva Kathryn Miller, MD, MPH, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, is investigating how cold and other respiratory virus infections during infancy may cause asthma in young children who were born prematurely. Her goal is to prevent asthma by improving treatment of early viral respiratory infections.

Patrick C. Seed, MD, PhD, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is investigating how bacteria such as E. coli move into the bloodstream in infants, especially those born prematurely, and cause meningitis and other life-threatening illnesses. His goal is to prevent and improve treatment of these dangerous bacterial infections.

Donghun Shin, PhD, University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is seeking to develop new techniques for regenerating the liver to extend the lives and improve the health of children awaiting a liver transplant. Some children with severe liver defects or other liver diseases require a liver transplant to survive, but some die before a liver is available

Denys V. Volgin, PhD, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, is investigating how exposure to alcohol before birth may disrupt sleep, possibly contributing to learning and behavioral problems in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The goal is to develop drug treatment for these sleep disturbances, possibly improving over-all health and functioning of children with FASDs.

Ashley Wazana, MD, FRCP, MSc, McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is seeking to identify risk factors for development of childhood anxiety and depression, possibly including maternal depression during pregnancy, and strategies to help prevent them. About 9 percent of preschool children suffer from anxiety, and about 2 percent from depression.

Research breakthroughs

From the PKU test to surfactant and nitric oxide therapies, March of Dimes funded research is saving the lives of thousands of babies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does maternal diabetes increase the risk of birth defects?

Women with poorly controlled diabetes that started before pregnancy (pregestational diabetes) are about 3 times more likely than women without diabetes to have a baby with a serious birth defect, such as heart, limb or neural tube defects. They can greatly reduce the risk of birth defects and other pregnancy complications by making sure their blood sugar levels are well controlled starting before pregnancy.

How many disorders should newborns be screened for?

The March of Dimes calls upon all states to adopt the new national standard of screening for at least 31 treatable conditions that are not obvious at birth. Early diagnosis and proper treatment of these disorders can make the difference between healthy development and lifelong disabilities. Each year an estimated 6,000 newborns are diagnosed with a treatable metabolic condition and another 12,000 with a hearing impairment.

What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

CMV is a common viral infection that usually causes no or mild symptoms. Pregnant women who contract CMV can pass it on to their babies during pregnancy. CMV infection occurs in about 1 in 100 newborns, sometimes causing intellectual disabilities, hearing loss or even death. You can help reduce your risk of CMV by practicing careful hygiene, such as washing hands thoroughly after changing diapers or wiping a child’s nose.

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