March of Dimes-Funded Scientists Create New Genetic Tool for Prematurity Research

Database to Help Identify Unknown Causes of Preterm Birth

White Plains, New York | Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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A new, integrated online database of genes and other information related to pregnancy has been developed by March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center investigators to help fine-tune questions, theories, and experiments to uncover the unknown causes of preterm birth.

The new database, called GEneSTATION, combining the words “gene” and “gestation” -- is a resource designed to help researchers leverage the growing knowledge of the human genome and its function to advance their understanding of the triggers for full-term, as well as preterm labor. The goal is to develop new ways to prevent and treat preterm birth (before 37 weeks of gestation).

Preterm birth is the leading killer of babies in the United States, and babies who survive an early birth often face serious and sometimes lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss, and cerebral palsy. Even babies born just a few weeks too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies.

“GEneSTATION is a new way to organize the information and to look at the problem of preterm birth,” said Patrick Abbot, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and co-author of the study, who is affiliated with the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center -- Ohio Collaborative.

The lack of complete scientific understanding of human pregnancy and the triggers for healthy, full-term labor are an obstacle to finding effective treatments for the complications of pregnancy, including early labor, researchers say.

“Given the importance of the subject, it’s shocking that we know so little,” said Antonis Rokas, PhD, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, who also is a project leader in the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center -- Ohio Collaborative.

The GEneSTATION database brings together various types of information, such as genomics, proteomics, and transcriptomics, among others, for 23 mammalian species. That data also is linked to other specialized clinical databases with information about human pregnancy-specific disorders.

In addition to the Ohio Collaborative, the March of Dimes has established four other Prematurity Research Centers nationwide: at Stanford University School of Medicine in California; University of Pennsylvania; Washington University in St. Louis; and University of Chicago-Northwestern University-Duke University.
The new online database is described in an article titled “GEneSTATION 1.0: a synthetic resource of diverse evolutionary and functional genomic data for studying the evolution of pregnancy-associated tissues and phenotypes,” published today in Nucleic Acids Research

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