Premature birth is a complex problem with no single solution. About 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the United States. In about half of cases, the cause is unknown. March of Dimes researchers are seeking the causes of prematurity as a step toward developing ways to prevent it.
Prematurity research initiative
In 2004, the March of Dimes began the Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI), which funds research into the causes of prematurity. Since then, nearly $28 million has been awarded to 88 grantees. Some PRI grantees are exploring how genetics or a combination of genetic and environmental factors may influence a woman’s chances of going into labor prematurely. Others are examining how infections may trigger early labor. Infections involving a woman’s uterus may contribute to about 1 of every 4 premature births. These infections often cause no symptoms.
Treating preterm labor
PRI grantees also are exploring new ways to treat preterm labor. Some are studying how the body normally suppresses uterine contractions until a pregnancy reaches full term, so that new drugs can be developed to prevent or stop preterm labor.
Saving preemies’ lives
In addition to PRI support, the March of Dimes funds prematurity research through its national research program. Grantees are improving the care of premature babies by developing new ways to help prevent or treat common complications of prematurity. For example, researchers helped develop surfactant treatment, which has saved tens of thousands of premature babies with breathing problems.
Prematurity Research Centers
The March of Dimes is pioneering a novel team approach to examine the complex problem of preterm birth from every angle. We have now launched five transdisciplinary Prematurity Research Centers aimed exclusively at finding the unknown causes of premature birth. At these centers, scientists from many diverse disciplines work together to develop new strategies to understand, and ultimately develop preventions for preterm labor.