March of Dimes, the nation’s leader in the fight for the health of all moms and babies, has awarded research grants to Massachusetts General Hospital and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania as part of its work to address the health threats facing pregnant women and babies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research teams will improve public understanding of COVID-19's potential impact on altering the placenta that could trigger adverse pregnancy outcomes and disruption of the protective immune responses between moms and babies. These grants are made possible by donor support of the March of Dimes COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund, which has raised more than $1 million to address the urgent need for research, advocacy and education to protect mom and babies from COVID-19 and its unknown future effects.
“We’re proud to support researchers with funding to advance our understanding of COVID-19 and its current and future impact on moms and babies,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Chief Medical and Health Officer, Senior Vice President and Interim Chief Scientific Officer at March of Dimes. “We still have a lot to learn about this virus and its impact on maternal and infant health. Prioritizing critical research like this is vital to building knowledge that will protect our nation’s moms and babies during this public health emergency.”
The following teams will each receive a $125,000 grant from March of Dimes for the following research:
- Dr. Andrea Edlow, Assistant Professor and Investigator, Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital: Through a multi-hospital COVID-19 pregnancy consortium, the team will examine the effects of COVID-19 on transferring protective antibodies between mom and baby through the placenta and breastmilk. The clinical data will provide important insight to inform strategies for breastfeeding during the pandemic, and COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine development for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
“We look forward to increasing knowledge about the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby in COVID-19, both via the placenta and the breast,” said Dr. Edlow. “Understanding neonatal protection and vulnerability will be critical to informing vaccine strategies for pregnant patients and providing mothers with evidence-based data regarding breastfeeding. Our multidisciplinary team, including Dr. Kathryn Gray and Dr. Mandy Belfort at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dr. Galit Alter at the Ragon Institute of MIT, will work together to advance knowledge as rapidly as possible.”
- Drs. Rebecca Simmons, the Hallam Hurt Professor of Neonatology and a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and a Neonatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Samuel Parry, Chief of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania: By studying pregnant women with COVID-19, researchers will examine the effects of the virus on the placenta. Specifically, they will examine how extracellular vesicles derived from the placenta and maternal immune-cells may alter this important organ and potentially cause placental dysfunction. In addition, they will analyze if changes to the placenta in COVID-19 cases correlate with adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, stillbirth, fetal growth restriction and hypertensive disorders.
“We are grateful to the March of Dimes for the opportunity to study extracellular vesicles circulating in pregnant women with COVID-19,” said Drs. Simmons and Parry. “These extracellular vesicles have been implicated in organ injury in non-pregnant adults with COVID-19 and may induce placental pathological changes that have been observed in COVID-19 pregnancies.”
The Mom and Baby COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund
Through the fund, March of Dimes will continue to secure donations to support critical research to enhance understanding of COVID-19’s impact on maternal and infant health. This fund also enables March of Dimes to advocate on behalf of moms and babies during the pandemic, educate the public about precautionary measures, and provide critical items like face masks, blood pressure cuffs and breast pumps. As part of its advocacy work, March of Dimes is calling on the government to close the research gap in vaccine development and include pregnant and lactating women in COVID-19 clinical trials. For more information about the fund and how you can make a donation to support moms and babies throughout the pandemic, visit marchofdimes.org/covid19fund.