University of Chicago Prematurity Research Center

The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center (PRC) at the University of Chicago in Chicago, IL, was established in 2015.
University of Chicago Prematurity Research Center

Over the course of its partnership with the March of Dimes, The University of Chicago-Northwestern-Duke Prematurity Research Center has worked on five consequential research themes aimed at understanding the genomic and epigenomic causes and consequences of preterm birth. These include: 1) Novel Cell Models of Pregnancy; 2) Evolutionary Systems Genetics; 3) Regulatory Variation and Networks in Preterm Birth as well as two themes on which researchers are still working: 4) The Project for Preterm Labor Epigenetics (PRPLE); 5) Transcriptional Responses to Stress

Led by Dr. Carole Ober, the Center’s two active themes, titled The Project for Preterm Labor Epigenetics (PRPLE), and Transcriptional Responses to Stress, have potential to make significant revelations about preterm birth and the effect of stress on pregnancy outcomes, both by way of studying the cells at the maternal-fetal interface (MFI) from term and preterm placentas. Both the PRPLE study and the maternal stress study are expected to add to our understanding of identifiable differences between term and preterm deliveries, as well as to our understanding of the impact of stress on pregnancy, with the end goal of allowing the greater medical community to develop clinical tools to identify at risk mothers before they experience preterm labor.

Research Themes

We have genes for everything. Those genes, and their combinations and locations, determine everything that we are, from the color our eyes to perhaps even the emotions that color our thoughts. They’re the recipes our mothers used to build us. They tell us where—and who—we came from, along with all the potential traits and talents expressed by the people who will come from us. Is it possible then that there are genes that regulated the length of a pregnancy? This PRC theme explores the factors we may be born with that may lead to premature birth.

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.

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.