March Of Dimes Launches Innovative Prematurity Research Center

More Than 18,000 Illinois Babies Born Too Soon Each Year

Chicago, Illinois | Tuesday, June 2, 2015

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The March of Dimes, University of Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Duke University School of Medicine today announced the launch of a new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center that will focus its efforts on identifying the regulatory genes responsible for ensuring a pregnancy continues to full-term and how stress can influence those genes.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive have serious and sometimes lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss, and cerebral palsy.

This new collaborative, transdisciplinary enterprise provides a team-based research approach to discovering the unknown causes of preterm birth in order to develop new strategies for prevention. The March of Dimes will invest $10 million over five years in the center. It will be the fifth in a nationwide network devoted to prematurity research.

“This new Prematurity Research Center continues our commitment to understanding the underlying causes of preterm birth. Too many babies, here in Illinois and throughout the United States, are born too soon,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes. “We’re excited to add the expertise of renowned scientists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Duke University to our specialized network of investigators nationwide working to discover precisely what causes early labor, and how it can be prevented.”

In Illinois, 11.7 percent of babies, or more than 18,000, are born too soon each year, and the U.S. has one of the highest rates of preterm birth of any industrialized country.

“The serious problems caused by preterm birth don’t end when the baby leaves the hospital – some first appear years later,” says Carole Ober, PhD, Chair, Department of Human Genetics, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at the University of Chicago and the primary investigator for the new research center. “Preterm birth is one of the most critical health problems today. March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers are engaging researchers from many different disciplines to bring fresh insight to the problem of premature birth. With new ways to study genes and cells, we will unravel the mystery of how and why labor occurs. And we will see a revolutionary change in our ability to prevent preterm birth and help more women have healthy, full-term babies.”

University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Duke University researchers are working together to determine which genes are involved in maintaining human pregnancy to 39 weeks, how these genes are regulated, and what changes in this regulation could result in a preterm birth. They also are investigating how responses to stress, including how a woman’s lifelong exposure to discrimination or poverty, might alter gene regulation.

“It’s amazing to me that even after tremendous research efforts, we still don’t have a clear understanding of what leads to normal labor, let alone preterm labor. Being able to prevent early births would improve lifelong health,” says William Grobman, MD, MBA, Arthur Hale Curtis, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and professor of preventive medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"The March of Dimes is to be congratulated for funding a study that will significantly grow our fundamental understanding of the genetic drivers of preterm birth,” says A. Eugene Washington, MD, Chancellor for Health Affairs Duke University and Chief Executive Officer for the Duke University Health System. “We are pleased and honored to be participating in this study aimed at giving more babies a healthy, strong start in life.”

The first March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center opened at Stanford University School of Medicine in California in 2011. The Ohio Collaborative, a partnership of the leading academic institutions, children’s hospitals and medical centers in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, launched in 2013. Last year, centers opened at Washington University in St. Louis and at the University of Pennsylvania. Working together, the five centers form an interactive hub of research to share findings and work together to determine the causes of preterm birth. To learn more about the research center, visit prematurityresearch.org/uchicago-northwestern-duke

The Prematurity Research Centers are funded by donations from individuals and corporations, including the March of Dimes number one supporter Kmart. Over the past three decades, Kmart has raised more than $125 million to fund March of Dimes research and programs.

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.

Visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org for more information. Visit shareyourstory.org for comfort and support. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.