Ohio-led team takes on premature birth through March of Dimes

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is leading a Northeast Ohio team that is part of a $10 million March of Dimes project to help prevent preterm births. Greater Cleveland’s participants include University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and MetroHealth Medical Center, with additional teams in Cincinnati and Columbus along with researchers across the country.

“The strength of the collaboration is that it brings together talented researchers with diverse expertise who share a common commitment,” said Sam Mesiano, an associate professor of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University. Mesiano is the co-director of the research division at UH MacDonald’s Women’s Hospital and will be the site director the Northeast Ohio portion of the project.

“The promise of this work and the people involved are truly inspiring,” he said.

Initially, the Ohio Collaborative will focus on five investigatory aims:

  • Evolution of human pregnancy
  • Genetics of unique human populations
  • The molecular developmental biology of pregnancy
  • Progesterone signaling in pregnancy maintenance and preterm birth
  • Sociobiology of racial disparities in preterm birth

For the past 75 years, March of Dimes’ dedication to pregnancy, as well as infant and child health, has helped calm the fears of countless families. It has been a leading contributor to significant research that prevents birth defects, childhood mortality and premature birth. But, as expectant parents are quick to realize, not all risks are well known and not all problems have clear causes.

“March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center-Ohio Collaborative is a unique research enterprise,” said Jennifer L. Howse, president of March of Dimes. “This new transdisciplinary, team-based research model will leverage the expertise of leading scientists here in Ohio to discover breakthroughs in our understanding of premature birth. Extraordinary research requires extraordinary funding, and we are very grateful to the leadership of the GE Foundation for awarding the program’s first grant for $200,000.”

In 2003, March of Dimes launched its Prematurity Campaign to prevent premature, or preterm, births—babies born before 37 weeks. Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant death around the world. It is extremely difficult to prevent and predict because half of them have no obvious cause.

Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely across the world. Half a million of those births—the highest rate of any developed nation—occur in the United States. And in Ohio alone, premature births total more than 17,000 a year.

These babies often suffer from respiratory difficulties, underdeveloped organs, cerebral palsy, and developmental and learning disabilities. They have higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and long-term health problems than babies carried to full-term.

This project aims to identify causes of preterm birth and also develop multiple approaches to preventing it. Other Ohio participants include the University of Cincinnati College Of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus.

“This new research approach has assembled creative, accomplished and dedicated scientists to work together to generate innovative strategies to transform our understanding of causes of prematurity and use this knowledge to enhance obstetrical care and infant outcomes for Ohio and its residents,” said Louis Muglia, co-director, Perinatal Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and coordinating principal investigator for the new collaborative. “Too many babies, here in Ohio and throughout the United States, are born too soon, and this program will help prevent that.”

Each participating facility brings its own strengths and expertise to the discussion. Teams and researchers will share ideas and information from diverse academic backgrounds to develop new ideas and evidence-based therapies and prevention.

Mark Chance, the vice dean for research at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, is also excited for the opportunity to participate in the collaborative.

“Rather than all work in our contained silos,” he explained, “we are collaborating on every step of the project . . . We talk a lot these days about ‘team science’ and this project exemplifies the very highest and best meaning of the phrase.”

Also included in the collaborations are Vanderbilt University, Dartmouth College, the University of Iowa and Washington University in St. Louis. The various institutions will all be responsible for contributing to an explanation of the biology of birth timing and the hidden origins of preterm birth. By combining their efforts, March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center-Ohio Collaborative hopes to develop prevention for preterm birth and allow all pregnancies to advance full term.