Penn Medicine and March of Dimes Launch New $10 Million Prematurity Research Center
In recognition of World Prematurity Day, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the March of Dimes Foundation today announce the establishment of a new Prematurity Research Center. Led by physicians and researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the transdisciplinary research center will focus on projects aimed at discovering the causes of preterm birth and developing new strategies to prevent it. The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania is created with a $10 million investment over the next five years from the March of Dimes.
The Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania brings together more than 40 scientists, physicians, faculty and staff. Under the leadership of Deborah A. Driscoll, MD, chair of the department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Penn Medicine, research projects at the new center will focus on three themes:
- Bioenergetics, Mitochondria and Genetics: Mitochondria are the body’s “cellular power plants,” and regulate critical cellular pathways. This team will work to identify abnormalities in mitochondria function and mitochondrial DNA that contribute to preterm birth;
- Cervical Remodeling: As pregnancy progresses, the cervix must continuously adjust to support the weight of the growing fetus and remain closed until it is time for delivery. While doctors know this process occurs, they don’t know how it happens. This research theme will study the biomechanical processes in the cervix and how factors such as the microbiome lead to premature cervical remodeling;
- Placental Dysfunction: Researchers will study the placentas from women with preterm and term births to identify changes in the mitochondria, metabolic patterns, epigenetics and the microbiome that may cause placental dysfunction and ultimately lead to preterm birth.
The new center complements Penn Medicine’s Prematurity Prevention Program, which aims to identify women at risk for premature labor and/or delivery. The program's high-risk pregnancy specialists educate, evaluate, diagnose and offer treatment options and support to women at risk for preterm delivery.
Preterm birth is the most common and serious newborn health problem in the United States, affecting nearly half a million babies each year. In Pennsylvania, 10.7 percent, or more than 16,000 babies, were born preterm in 2013. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as vision and breathing problems, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants.
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