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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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Transdisciplinary research centers

The seemingly intractable problem of preterm birth is a complex disorder with many contributing factors. An integrated approach incorporating psychosocial and behavioral disciplines, as well as those not usually involved in the prematurity research, in addition to customary biological and physical sciences, is essential in order to shed new light in this area. Such a transdisciplinary approach was one of the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report on preterm birth, as well as the 2008 Surgeon General’s Conference on the Prevention of Preterm Birth.

The budget required for such a large enterprise would be substantial and could not be supported by the March of Dimes alone. However, the March of Dimes intends to stimulate the creation of several centers – up to five – in the United States by developing partnerships with academic institutions interested in fostering transdisciplinary research. The March of Dimes recognizes that the components of these partnerships will vary with each institution based on the available strengths and resources. In addition, we expect that this initiative will derive additional strength from collaboration among transdisciplinary centers.

Transdisciplinary investigations should be an integrated effort of researchers from many disciplines, including but not limited to: basic sciences (such as genetics, genomics, molecular biology and developmental biology), clinical sciences, epidemiology, and social sciences (such as sociology and anthropology.) Moreover, it will need involvement of representatives of other fields, such as engineering, computer science and bioinformatics, as well as disciplines that are not traditionally associated with studying the problem of preterm birth who may be able to use their expertise to come up with new innovative approaches. Researchers in transdisciplinary settings would be encouraged to work jointly to develop and address a common conceptual goal instead of working independently and then attempting to combine their efforts.

Initiatives will be evaluated by novel methods that are in accord with the complexity and novelty of what is proposed. This evaluation will require suspension of some of the traditional critiques, and an acceptance of unorthodoxy, not as a norm, but as a characteristic. Predictions of the likelihood of their being successful will be difficult, but this is what happens in all pioneering efforts. The key determinant will be whether the proposed interaction will be stronger than the sum of independent projects, and therefore whether true synergy is demonstrated.

Multiple principal investigators from disparate disciplines are encouraged to participate for each specific research project within the centers, in order to foster integrated, transdisciplinary research. One of the Principal Investigators (PI) should act as the main contact person to provide coordination and leadership for the project. The participation of young investigators and postdoctoral students in these projects is an important aspect of these proposals, in order to optimize the impact of new approaches to prematurity research for a prolonged time period.

One center has just been inaugurated in California as the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine. The March of Dimes expects to develop several of these centers and we are open to explorations with institutions that have an interest to engage in planning partnerships. Direct relevant inquiries to tdc@marchofdimes.org or (914) 428-7100.

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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