March of Dimes and University of Pennsylvania Launch Pioneering Prematurity Research Center on World Prematurity Day

More than 16,000 Babies Born Too Soon in Pennsylvania Each Year

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Sunday, November 16, 2014

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The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the March of Dimes Foundation announce the launch of a new $10 million Prematurity Research Center here.

The March of Dimes will invest $10 million during the next five years to create a transdisciplinary center conducting team-based research, led by physicians and researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to discover the unknown causes of preterm birth and develop new strategies to prevent it. This March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania is part of a “medical Manhattan Project” of five such centers in the United States created by the foundation since 2011.

“This new Prematurity Research Center at Penn continues our commitment to accelerate research investment in this critical area of newborn health,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes. “We’re excited to add the expertise of the University of Pennsylvania’s renowned scientists to our specialized network of investigators nationwide working to discover precisely what causes early labor, and how it can be prevented.”

Preterm birth is the most common, costly, and serious newborn health problem in the United States, affecting nearly half a million babies each year. In Pennsylvania, 10.7 percent, or more than 16,000 babies, were born preterm in 2013. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the U.S., and the leading killer of children under age five worldwide. Babies who survive an early birth often face lifetime health challenges, such as vision and breathing problems, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. The U.S. has one of the worst rates of preterm birth of any high-resource country.

“As an obstetrician for 30 years, I have seen first-hand the toll of premature birth, and the need to create such an important research collaborative,” says Dr. Deborah A. Driscoll, Luigi Mastroianni Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Pennsylvania, and Principal Investigator of the new Prematurity Research Center. “The University of Pennsylvania has some of the top researchers and maternal-fetal specialists in the nation, with impressive accomplishments in the study of this serious threat to the health of babies.”

“We’re grateful for the support from the March of Dimes for this important initiative, and we’re excited about the opportunity to make major advances in understanding the basis for preterm birth and ultimately reduce the incidence of premature delivery,” says Dr. Joseph W. St. Geme, Physician-in-Chief and Chair of Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania will focus on the energy and metabolism of the cells in the reproductive tract, structural changes in the cervix, and the contribution of the placenta to normal and preterm labor.

Also collaborating on the project are investigators from Columbia University Medical Center in New York and University of Pittsburgh Magee-Womens Research Institute.

The March of Dimes is investing a total of $75 million over 10 years in its prematurity research centers. The first one opened at Stanford University School of Medicine in California in 2011. The Ohio Collaborative, a partnership of leading research centers in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, launched in 2013, and the Prematurity Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis was launched last week on November 10.

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Today marks the 4th annual World Prematurity Day (WPD), created to highlight the serious global problem of preterm birth. Nongovernmental organizations, parent groups, and government ministries are working together on WPD in some 80 countries to raise awareness and take action to prevent premature birth and save babies in their countries. Activities include lighting buildings and landmarks such as the Empire State Building in New York City in purple to symbolize hope for a healthy start for more babies.

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

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