March of Dimes’ researchers hard at work

research_birthdefectsresearch_rdax_50Did you know that in 2014, the March of Dimes invested about $25 million in research to defeat premature birth and other health problems? Scientific research has been a main focus of the March of Dimes since it was founded 75 years ago. March of Dimes-funded researchers created the first safe and effective vaccines for epidemic polio, and we haven’t stopped trying to improve the health of all babies since then.

The March of Dimes has pioneered genetic research, promoted the B vitamin folic acid to prevent birth defects, fought for lifesaving newborn screening tests– and so much more. Here are some recent examples of our work:

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) causes birth defects in 8,000 babies each year. Pregnant women can pass the virus on to their baby before or during birth. The March of Dimes is funding research on protecting against CMV in women of childbearing age, thereby protecting babies.
  • Novel gene therapy: Scientists have long been seeking to develop gene therapy. However, they have run into a number of obstacles. A recent March of Dimes grantee is attempting to find a new way around these obstacles. He is using a novel form of gene therapy called “gene editing.” Instead of replacing the faulty gene, this new technology attempts to find and fix the mutation (change) in the gene.

In 2003, the March of Dimes launched the Prematurity Campaign to help families have full-term, healthy babies. We now have two Prematurity Research Centers –Stanford University and the Ohio Collaborative. These transdicsiplinary centers recognize that preterm birth is a complex disorder with many contributing factors. At both centers, scientists are coming together to examine the problem of preterm birth from many angles. Some highlights of ongoing research include:

  • Progesterone signaling in pregnancy maintenance and preterm birth: Progesterone is a key pregnancy hormone. It is thought to play a role in preventing contractions until term, but we don’t know how it does this. Progesterone treatment is one of the few available treatments to help prevent repeat singleton preterm delivery in women who have already had a premature birth. However, we do not know why progesterone treatment works in some women but not others. A better understanding of the exact role progesterone plays in maintaining pregnancy may lead to new ways to prevent or treat preterm labor.
  • Microbiome and preterm birth: The microbiome refers to the bacteria and other microbes that live inside our bodies. Recent genetic technologies (DNA sequencing) have identified many new organisms, most of which don’t harm our health. Scientists are analyzing changes in the microbiome in samples from term and preterm pregnancies. The goal is to find out if specific microbes or changes in the microbiome may contribute to premature birth. This information could lead to better ways to predict and prevent premature birth.

The March of Dimes expects to open two additional Prematurity Research Centers in the near future.  You can read more about our infant health, birth defects, and prematurity research on our website.  The March of Dimes continues to do all it can to give every baby a healthy start in life.

 

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