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Prematurity research

  • Researchers are working to identify the causes of premature birth.
  • In progress: new treatments to prevent or halt preterm labor.
  • Medical breakthroughs improve the care of premature babies.
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Sample prematurity research grants

Sylvain Chemtob, MD, PhD, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center in Montreal, is investigating how a protein in the uterine wall may contribute to preterm labor. His goal is to develop drugs that curb specific actions of this protein, possibly preventing or halting preterm labor.

Jennifer Catherine Condon, PhD, University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is investigating the role of a cellular organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum in regulating the levels of an enzyme that may help trigger preterm labor. Her goal is to develop drugs to regulate enzyme levels and prevent preterm labor.

Sudhansu K. Dey, PhD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medicine Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, is investigating chemicals produced by the body that regulate inflammation after a uterine infection to understand how they may contribute to preterm labor. The goal is to develop new ways to prevent or treat preterm labor.

Sarah K. England, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, is studying how mutations (changes) to a gene that regulates tiny openings in cell membranes that allow potassium to flow out of uterine muscle cells may affect preterm labor. This information could lead to new treatments to prevent preterm labor.

Tippi C. MacKenzie, MD, University of California at San Francisco, is investigating how the mother’s immune system may trigger preterm labor after an infection. Her goal is to develop treatment to prevent or halt preterm labor.

Nihar Ranjan Nayak, DVM, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, is studying the interaction of two genes in the placenta and how they may contribute to preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure. Preeclampsia can be fatal for both mother and baby and is responsible for about 15 percent of preterm births.

Judith T. Zekikoff, PhD, New York University School of Medicine in Tuxedo, New York, is seeking to determine whether air pollution at levels found in many U.S. cities can increase the risk of premature delivery. This information could lead to regulatory guidelines that protect pregnant women and their babies.

Research breakthroughs

From the PKU test to surfactant and nitric oxide therapies, March of Dimes funded research is saving the lives of thousands of babies.

Most common questions

How many babies are born prematurely each year?

In the United States, more than 450,000 babies are born too soon each year. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely.

What are the consequences of premature birth?

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life. Worldwide, more than one million children die each year due to complications of premature birth. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, breathing problems, and vision and hearing loss.

Why is it important for a pregnancy to last at least 39 weeks?

If a pregnancy is healthy, it should go to at least 39 weeks. That’s because babies born at 39 and 40 completed weeks of pregnancy (called full term) have the best chance of a healthy start in life. Even babies born at 37 and 38 weeks (called early term) have a higher risk of newborn complications, like breathing problems. Babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks) have a higher risk of newborn health problems and lasting disabilities.

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