Last week, the March of Dimes announced that investigators from the Stanford Prematurity Research Center published an important study which may help to better understand some of the factors that may play a role in premature birth.
Researchers at Stanford have been looking into how the microbiomes of women who deliver babies early are different from those who have full-term births. The microbiome is a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria) in the body. Differences in the microbiomes of individuals may help explain why some women give birth early. Microbiome differences may also explain other health issues, such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
Weekly samples were taken of the bacteria from the teeth, gums, saliva, reproductive tract, and stool from 49 pregnant women. Scientists found little change in the bacterial communities in each woman, week to week at each location. But they did find that microbial communities in the reproductive tracts of women who delivered their babies too soon were different from those of women who delivered full term. Those differences were identified early in the pregnancies and continued throughout the pregnancies.
“These findings may help us screen women and identify and predict those who are more likely to have a baby born too soon,” said David Relman, MD, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the lead investigator for the research center on this project.
The researchers also found that the women’s microbiomes changed immediately after they delivered their babies, and did not revert back to pre-pregnancy patterns in some cases until at least a year later. “This might explain why women with closely spaced pregnancies have a higher risk of preterm birth,” said Dr. Relman.
The March of Dimes currently has five prematurity research centers. These unique, transdisciplinary centers bring together scientists from many diverse disciplines — geneticists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, engineers, computer scientists, and others — to work together to find answers to prevent premature birth.
Questions? Text or email them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.