Posts Tagged ‘DNA’

March of Dimes-funded researchers have identified genes involved in preterm birth

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Premature birth is a complex problem with no single solution. Each year, about 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, and more than one million of them will die. Over 50 percent of the time, the cause of premature birth is not known. However, scientists have always believed that genetic factors play a role. A new study led by the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center-Ohio Collaborative, is the first to provide strong information as to what some of those genetic factors are. The team identified six genes that influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. The findings were published Sept. 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This international team of researchers looked at the DNA of 50,000 pregnant women from around the world. The identification of these six gene regions allowed scientists to learn that:

  • The cells within the lining of the uterus play a larger-than-suspected role in the length of pregnancy.
  • Low levels of selenium—a common dietary mineral found in some nuts, certain green vegetables, liver and other meats—might affect the risk of preterm birth. Future studies will look at selenium levels in pregnant women who live in areas with low selenium in their diet or soil.

The six genes that have been identified can now be studied in more detail. The population of women in this study was mostly from Europe. Researchers are already trying to determine if these gene associations are the same for women from Africa and Asia.

Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, co-director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s and principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center–Ohio Collaborative stated, “This is just the beginning of the journey, but we think it leads to an exciting horizon where we can really make a difference in human pregnancy.”

The March of Dimes believes that these new findings will lead to new diagnostic tests, medications, improved dietary supplements or other changes that could help more women have full-term pregnancies and give more babies a healthy start in life.

Smoking during pregnancy can affect your baby’s DNA

Friday, April 1st, 2016

pregnant woman in greenYou already know that smoking during pregnancy is bad for you and your baby. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and can cause serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease and eye diseases that can lead to blindness.

A new study published yesterday in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggests that smoking during pregnancy causes chemical changes in a baby’s DNA. These differences are similar to changes found in the DNA of adult smokers.

The study analyzed the umbilical cord blood of over 6,000 newborns. The researchers found that when women smoked every day during pregnancy, their baby’s DNA was chemically different in over 6,000 places when compared with the DNA of babies whose mothers did not smoke. Some of the places where the DNA was chemically different could be linked to specific genes that play a role in cleft lip and palate, asthma, and some adult smoking-related cancers, such as lung cancer.  This new study is important because it adds to our understanding of how smoking during pregnancy affects fetal DNA and it suggests that these DNA changes may play a role in the development of certain birth defects or medical conditions.

It is well known that smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a number of pregnancy complications and medical problems for the baby. When you smoke during pregnancy, chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar pass through the placenta and umbilical cord into your baby’s bloodstream.

These chemicals are harmful. They can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. This can slow your baby’s growth before birth and can damage your baby’s heart, lungs and brain.

If you smoke during pregnancy, you’re more likely to have:

And your baby is more likely to:

If you smoke during pregnancy, quitting is the best thing you can do for you and your baby. The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby can be. It’s best to quit smoking before getting pregnant. But quitting any time during pregnancy can have a positive effect on your baby’s life.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Supreme Court decision related to gene patenting

Monday, June 17th, 2013

double-helix“The March of Dimes is delighted with [the] unanimous Supreme Court decision in the case Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, finding that the mere identification of a gene or mutation is insufficient to qualify for a patent,” stated Dr. Jennifer Howse, President of the March of Dimes.

“This decision will allow research to proceed unimpeded on some of the most crucial and vexing questions in medicine, such as the cause of preterm birth, which affects one in every 9 babies born in our nation. Genetic predisposition almost certainly plays a key role in some cases of preterm birth; as we learn more and identify genes potentially implicated in this process, we can be confident that research will advance without being hampered by patent infringement claims.

“This decision is a victory for patients and for research. Having signed onto one of the key amicus curiae briefs in this case, the March of Dimes commends the Justices for producing a sensible, thoughtful decision. This decision sets the groundwork for a system of granting patents for genuine innovation and invention in genetics while protecting the ability of research on genes to advance.”

A fellowship and a double helix

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

genetic-counseling1In 1952, James Watson was an unknown scientist who applied to the March of Dimes for a fellowship proposing research on X-ray diffraction patterns of proteins and nucleic acids. Knowing that the March of Dimes funded basic science as well as polio prevention, Watson hoped that the grant he would receive might enable him to conduct a year of research and cover his lab expenses. His modest grant award of $5,678, roughly equivalent to $50,000 today, led to one of the most momentous discoveries of the age. On April 25, 1953 Watson and his colleague Francis Crick published “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in the journal Nature. The field of molecular genetics was launched. They had discovered the double-helical structure of DNA.

Much has been written about Watson and Crick’s famous discovery, for which they received the Nobel Prize in 1962. Their path-breaking research vastly expanded the field of genetics, leading to knowledge unimaginable in their day. Their accomplishment also prefigured what the March of Dimes would do next. After funding the vaccines that brought the scourge of polio to a halt, the Foundation turned to the riddle of birth defects, knowing that the keys of genetics would open further doors to this intractable problem.

By the 1960s, the March of Dimes sponsored birth defects and clinical genetics conferences to keep medical professionals up-to-date with progress in the field. We helped to develop a universal standardized language (the karyotype) to describe human chromosomes. At a March of Dimes conference in 1969, Dr. Victor McKusick proposed that science might create a molecular map of all genes. His idea sparked the March of Dimes to organize a series of human gene mapping workshops that ultimately led to the Human Genome Project of the 1990s.

Our interest in genetics goes beyond science itself to assisting individuals and families. We have developed the field of genetic counseling to help parents and parents-to-be understand the risks of inherited disorders. We helped to establish the first master’s degree program in genetic counseling at a U.S. college. In the 1980s we sponsored an educational program on Genetic Decision Making and Pastoral Care, enabling clergy from different religions to understand the complexities of genetics in order to give appropriate counseling to concerned families. At the same time, our funding of scientific research has remained fundamental. Our grantees have identified the gene for Fragile X Syndrome and have created therapies for other life-threatening disorders.

As we note the 60th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s famous article on the double helix of DNA, we look forward to a time when birth defects and premature birth have receded into the past just as polio has done. Our steadfast commitment to “stronger, healthier babies” is grounded in the building blocks of genetics that help us identify the causes of disease.