Medical research breakthroughs

Research breakthroughs timeline

Changing the course of maternal and infant health care

The incredible story of March of Dimes is based in medical research. We simply would not be where we are today without the groundbreaking discoveries and medical practices, some of which are still in use today. Dedicated medical professionals have worked for decades to advance the medical practices that have impacted the lives of millions of mothers, babies and children.

Funded with grants, our research expanded

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.