University of Pennsylvania Prematurity Research Center

The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which launched in 2014, is furthering our understanding of preterm birth through various fundamental research initiatives that span the reproductive, prenatal and neonatal disciplines.
University of Pennsylvania Prematurity Research Center

Led by Dr. Samuel Parry and Dr. Rebecca SImmons, the PRC is focused on bioenergetics and genetics, attempting to understand why deficiencies in mitochondria, also known as "cellular power plants," in the cells of the placenta and maternal reproductive tissues may be contributors to preterm birth.  Relatedly, the team is working to determine if abnormal mitochondrial cargo of extracellular vesicles (EVs) function as vectors to transport signals between fetal and maternal tissues and cause abnormal placental function and adverse pregnancy outcomes in patients with COVID-19.

Research Themes

The placenta plays a central role in nurturing a fetus through pregnancy, which is why researchers have long suspected its dysfunction could be a leading cause of preterm birth. In fact, placental dysfunction has been directly linked to other poor pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage, stillbirth and preeclampsia.

A number of maternal medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of indicated or spontaneous preterm birth, including, for example, hypertensive disorders (preeclampsia/eclampsia, pre-existing, gestational, etc), cardiovascular disease, diabetes (both pre-existing and gestational), and increasingly recognized and reported mental health disorders and substance abuse.

This PRC theme aims to uncover the links between major systemic and localized comorbidities and preterm birth so that we can begin to mitigate and prevent preterm birth and maternal and infant mortality.

Making an Impact with Research

March of Dimes research is focused on making an impact NOW to end preventable preterm birth; we do this by approaching research in several key ways. At both the bench and bedside– through descriptive research that aims to characterize and understand the factors that lead to preterm birth and other adverse outcomes; and through work that leads to mitigation and prevention of preterm birth- through therapeutics, diagnostics, and/or policy changes. 

We know that pregnancy is complex. March of Dimes research approach takes a whole-system view and brings the best talent and minds to bear, so we can make a difference in our lifetime. 

Recent examples

  • How are we making a difference: March of Dimes research programs have made discoveries that lead to direct impact on the health of moms, babies, and their families.
  • PRC microbiome studies leading to bedside testing; rapid, low cost predictive testing.
  • Early detection of preeclampsia and other adverse pregnancy outcomes through several approaches, including cell-free RNA, data analytics, and other diagnostic markers.
  • Understanding maternal-infant nutrition, to wit, NEC and how breastfeeding can improve outcomes  

Your Support Helps us Fund Research

There are a number of ways to support research at March of Dimes. Your time – through volunteering at events, raising awareness in your community, and recruiting new and impactful researcher to our network; your attention – by focused attention on how research can impact your community, your country, and the global family; and your resources – by way of funding, access to your network, and getting involved in research directly.

We need your help to continue developing diagnostics, therapeutics, and understanding of the complex factors that lead to preterm birth, maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, and overall adverse outcomes in pregnancy. Moms, Babies, and their Families can’t wait for you to step up and get involved. 

Join our amazing volunteer community and make a difference in maternal and infant health across the country.

Advocate for healthy moms and strong babies with March of Dimes. Join our network and make a difference in maternal and infant health.

March of Dimes donations go towards lifesaving research and advocating policies that prioritize the health of moms and babies. Your donation to our nonprofit can help improve the lives of moms and babies everywhere. Donate to March of Dimes today.