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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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Preventing infant health problems

Medical research supported by the March of Dimes is helping improve babies’ chances of being born healthy and staying healthy. Major accomplishments include the development of certain newborn screening tests. Grantees developed the first screens for inborn errors of body chemistry including phenylketonuria (PKU), biotinidase deficiency, congenital adrenal hyperplasia and hyperthyroidism. Today the March of Dimes recommends that all babies be screened for 31 disorders that, without prompt treatment, can result in serious health problems, brain damage or even death..

Maternal health issues

Research grantees are conducting studies on maternal health conditions that contribute to premature birth, birth defects, reduced birthweight, newborn illness and death, and childhood health problems. They are looking at chronic conditions (such as diabetes and obesity), pregnancy complications (such as preeclampsia and placental problems) and infections. For example, grantees are currently seeking to develop treatments to prevent mothers from passing dangerous infections, such as toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, and herpes on to their babies during pregnancy or delivery.

Keeping childhood infections at bay

Grantees are working to prevent or improve the treatment of childhood infections and chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes and autism. Infants, especially those born prematurely, have immature immune systems that are not efficient at fighting off bacteria that can cause dangerous infections, such as meningitis and sepsis (blood infection). Some grantees are seeking to develop improved drug treatments for dangerous newborn infections, which are a common cause of death and lasting disabilities in premature infants.

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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