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New Research Helps Explain How Progesterone Prevents Preterm Birth

March of Dimes Awards Abstract at SMFM Meeting

San Francisco, California — Thursday, February 10, 2011

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Research presented today at the 31st Annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) ― The Pregnancy Meeting™ has found that three proteins known as XIAP, BID, and Bcl-2 are responsible in part for the success of progesterone treatments in the prevention of preterm labor. They may also play an important role in triggering normal labor.

The proteins prevent preterm birth by hindering apoptosis – the normal, orderly death of cells -- in the fetal membranes. Stronger, thicker fetal membranes are less likely to rupture prematurely leading to premature delivery, according to the study led by Errol R. Norwitz, MD, PhD, Ob/Gyn-in-Chief at Tufts Medical Center and chairman of Obstetrics/Gynecology at Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Norwitz also is a researcher with the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center.

“Dr. Norwitz’s research adds to our basic understanding of what triggers labor, how the fetal membranes rupture and the role progesterone plays,” said Alan R. Fleischman, MD, medical director of the March of Dimes.

In the United States, more than half a million babies are born preterm each year. Preterm birth, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive often face the risk of lifetime health challenges. Even infants born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain, are not completely developed until then.

Today’s award-winning study, “Progesterone Inhibits Basal Apoptosis In Fetal Membranes By Altering Expression Of Both Pro- And Anti-Apoptotic Proteins,” is the eighth study by SMFM members to be honored by the March of Dimes for innovative research focused on preventing premature birth. The research was supported in part by a March of Dimes grant. March of Dimes is conducting a national Prematurity Campaign aimed at using research and awareness to reduce the increasing rate of premature birth.

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (est. 1977) is a nonprofit membership group for obstetricians/gynecologists who have additional formal education and training in maternal-fetal medicine. The society is devoted to reducing high-risk pregnancy complications by educating its 2000 members on the latest pregnancy assessment and treatment methods. It serves as an advocate for improving public policy, and expanding research funding and opportunities for maternal-fetal medicine. The group hosts an annual scientific meeting in which new ideas and research in the area of maternal-fetal medicine are unveiled and discussed. For more information, visit www.smfm.org.

About March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies®, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The March for Babies is sponsored nationally by the March of Dimes number one corporate supporter Kmart, Farmers Insurance Group, Bayer HealthCare, CIGNA, Famous Footwear, FedEx, Sanofi Pasteur, United Airlines, First Response, and Mission Pharmacal.

For the latest resources and health information, visit our websites marchofdimes.org and nacersano.org. To participate in our annual signature fundraising event, visit marchforbabies.org. If you have been affected by prematurity or birth defects, visit our shareyourstory.org community to find comfort and support. For detailed national, state and local perinatal statistics, visit persistats.org. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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