Posts Tagged ‘research’

A woman’s microbiome may influence her chance of giving birth early

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

research_birthdefectsresearch_rdax_50Last 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

Baby’s genes may play a role in some premature births

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

MOD scienceSome babies seem to have a genetic predisposition to a higher risk of being born too soon. Changes in the baby’s DNA – not the mother’s – may be what triggers some early births.

In an exciting new study, researchers analyzed the number of copies of certain genes in the blood or saliva from hundreds of babies and their mothers. A gene is a part of your body’s cells that stores instructions for the way your body grows and works. What the scientists found may be somewhat surprising.  There was no link between the number of copies of the mother’s genes and the chances of a preterm baby. However, there was a two- to eleven-fold increase in premature births before 34 weeks of pregnancy when any of four genes were duplicated or seven genes were deleted in the babies born preterm, when compared to babies born full-term.

The researchers think that the differences in the number of copies of the genes may not be causing a preterm birth, but they may put a baby at a higher risk of infection or reacting to other harmful environmental factors that may trigger early labor and delivery.

“These findings may help explain what triggers early labor in some women even when they’ve done everything right during pregnancy and there’s no obvious cause for an early birth,” explained March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer Edward R. B. McCabe, MD, MPH. “The hope is that this finding may one day lead to a screening test to help identify which babies are at a higher risk of an early birth.”

Stay tuned for upcoming details. We will blog again when we have more information.

How can we prevent birth defects?

Friday, January 30th, 2015

speak to your health care providerBirth defects are common, costly, and critical.
Common: Every 4 ½ minutes in the United States, a baby is born with a birth defect.
Costly: Hospital costs for children and adults with birth defects exceeds $2.6 billion. That does not include outpatient expenses.
Critical: Birth defects cause 1 in every 5 deaths during the first year of life. They can result in lifelong challenges and disabilities.

As Birth Defects Prevention Month draws to a close, let’s recap what we know and look at steps that can be taken to prevent them.

Preconception and pregnancy planning
We know that it essential for a woman to take an active role in planning her pregnancy.  If you are thinking of having a baby or if you may want to have children sometime in the future, it is important to make a PACT: plan ahead, avoid harmful substances, choose a healthy lifestyle, and talk to your doctor. You can read more here.

Changing a few behaviors now can make a big difference when you are ready to have a baby. It is best to get any preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, under control before pregnancy. Some medications, such as opioid-based prescription pain medications, are not safe to use when you are pregnant. All of these concerns can be discussed with your doctor during a preconception checkup.

Folic acid fortification
It is well known that taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day can help to reduce the risk of neural tube defects or NTDs (disorders of the brain and spine). Since the US mandated folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products in 1998, the rates of NTDs have decreased by 35%.  That means that there are 1,300 fewer NTDs each year as a result of fortification. And that translates into an annual cost savings of approximately $508 million.

State surveillance systems record the number of babies born with a birth defect each year. The information gained from these surveillance systems furthers research on the causes of birth defects. The data also helps researchers to better understand which populations are at highest risk for specific birth defects. This information can then be used by public health professionals, policymakers, and health care providers to implement prevention strategies.

The March of Dimes is funding research to understand the causes of birth defects and to develop new ways to prevent and treat them. Some March of Dimes grantees are studying basic biological processes of development. A more advanced look at the process of development will help reveal what can go wrong along the way. Others researchers are conducting clinical studies aimed at finding ways to prevent or treat specific birth defects.

Birth Defects Prevention Month may be coming to an end, but there is still a lot of work to do. Go to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to learn more.

March of Dimes’ researchers hard at work

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

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.


Possible link between antidepressants and miscarriage

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

depression-2Researchers from Canada have reported a possible connection between miscarriage and antidepressant drugs. The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported the results of their study on Monday.

But the study was preliminary; more research needs to be done before we know for sure if there is a connection. Also, it’s possible that depression itself, not the medications used to treat it, may increase the risk of miscarriage.

A women who is pregnant and has depression should talk with her health care provider about the risks and benefits of taking medications. The illness itself increases the chances of pregnany complications. So the woman and her provider must carefully consider whether she should or should not take antidepressant drugs. For more information, read the March of Dimes article Depression During Pregnancy.

Congenital heart defects

Friday, December 18th, 2009

There have been some painful posts and resulting discussion this week on congenital heart defects (CHD) on Twitter. So I thought it would be a good idea to provide some background information about these conditions and what the March of Dimes is doing to help.

About 35,000 infants (1 out of every 125) are born with heart defects each year in the United States. The term congenital heart defect is a general term used to describe many types of rare heart disorders. The term congenital heart defect is not a diagnosis in itself. Some of the most common heart defects include: patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), septal defects, coarctation of the aorta, heart valve abnormalities, tetralogy of fallot, transposition of the great arteries, and hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Click here to learn more.

Over the past ten years, the March of Dimes has invested over $36 million in heart related research, including CHDs.  A number of scientists funded by the March of Dimes are studying genes that may underlie specific heart defects. The goal of this research is to better understand the causes of congenital heart defects, in order to develop ways to prevent them. Grantees also are looking at how environmental factors (such as a form of vitamin A called retinoic acid) may contribute to congenital heart defects. One grantee is seeking to understand why some babies with serious heart defects develop brain injuries, in order to learn how to prevent and treat them.

If you have questions or concerns about a specific birth defect, please drop us a note at and we’ll gladly provide you with information.

Pregnancy: How many weeks are best for baby?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

pregnant2Did you know that it’s usually best for the baby if pregnancy lasts 39-40 weeks?

Today, researchers published a study showing that many women are confused about the length of  full-term pregnancy. This isn’t surprising since there’s a lot of mixed up info out there.

In the study, one out of every four women thought a full-term pregnancy lasts 34-36 weeks. Half of the women said it’s 37-38 weeks.

Only one out of every four gave the “right answer”: 39-40 weeks. That is the time recommended by most medical experts.

What’s the most important thing that happens during the last few weeks of pregnancy? The baby’s brains and lungs are still developing. It’s usually best if that development happens inside mom’s uterus, rather than outside in the world.

To learn more, read the March of Dimes article “Why at least 39 weeks is best for your baby.”

This new study was published in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Concerns about the painkiller Darvon: Risk of overdose, death

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking several steps to reduce the risk of overdose from Darvon (also called Darvocet and propoxyphene). Darvon is usually prescribed for pain. Every year, some people die when they take too much of this medication.

As a result of the FDA decision, label warnings will be strengthened, and new research will be done.

If you need a painkiller, talk to your health care provider about the choices available to you, including aspirin, ibuprofen, oxycodone and codeine. For all medications, take only the recommended amount and no more. If you are pregnant, don’t take any painkillers without first talking to your health care provider.

Off-label use of prescription drugs

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

medicationsWe’ve all heard it a million times: Follow the directions on the label when you take your medication.

But sometimes health care providers prescribe a drug in ways that the label doesn’t talk about. This is called off-label use.

Often this is a good thing. The provider may know about research that has found a new use for the drug and the instructions have not yet been updated. But as with all medicine, there are also risks involved. Researchers may still be learning about the new way the drug is being used.

If your provider recommends an off-label use, ask if the drug is likely to work better than an approved treatment.

For more info, visit the Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And, of course, if you’re pregnant, don’t take any medications without first talking to your health care provider.

A promising treatment for peanut allergy? Maybe

Monday, March 16th, 2009

peanuts-sm1The media has been buzzing about a possible new treatment for peanut allergy. Here’s what we know.

Scientists from Duke University presented new research at a national medical meeting on Sunday. This sparked headlines and conversation.

One pilot study involved 33 children who were severely allergic to peanuts. Symptoms of this allergy include stomach upset, skin reactions and, in the most serious cases, breathing problems that can be deadly.

Researchers gave each child a dose of peanuts every day using a powder sprinkled on food. At the beginning, the dose was very small. Over time, it increased, amounting to 15 peanuts per day.

Most children in the study did not have allergic reactions. But four dropped out of the research because they did. After 2 1/2 years, five children in the study stopped the treatment. They can now eat peanuts just like their friends who aren’t allergic.

Are these five children “cured” of peanut allergy? It’s too early to say. Doctors will watch them carefully for several years to know for sure.

So what does this mean for people who have peanut allergies? Too early to say. More research is needed to confirm the pilot study.

Most important: Don’t try this on yourself or on your children. All the children in the study received their doses under the supervision of medical professionals. They were watched closely for allergic reactions.

To learn more about food allergies, read the March of Dimes article on our Web site.