BWF Provides $3 million in Support of Preterm Birth Research

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC -- The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is pleased to announce support for five interdisciplinary research teams to examine the biological complexities of preterm birth.  The Preterm Birth Initiative provides $600,000 over a four-year period.

Surprisingly, little is known about the biological mechanisms that occur during birth.  Even less is known about what causes preterm birth.  Defined as babies born before 37 weeks, preterm birth occurs in nearly 13 percent of all U.S births, with African-Americans and Hispanics having an even higher rate.

Preterm Birth is a major public health problem. Many preterm births lead to long-term health problems and developmental difficulties.  There are also the sociological issues of families going bankrupt and marriages dissolving.

Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s ultimate goal is to help develop preventive strategies by enabling interdisciplinary teams to collaborate in learning more about preterm birth.  Much has recently been accomplished to address the issues surrounding preterm birth such as identification of new dietary interventions, noninvasive monitoring of gene expression, insight into the impact of the microbiome, and a new understanding of how maternal genetics determine genetic outcomes.  However much still needs to be accomplished such as a better understanding of parturition, the role of progesterone, and new therapeutic approaches. 

“With so many questions still to be answered there are relatively few people that work in this area,” said BWF President John Burris.  “We hope to help develop a critical mass of researchers from all disciplines to continue to move this area forward.”

The following recipients of the 2017 Preterm Birth Initiative are listed by the lead researcher and project title:

John Anthony Capra Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Integrating 'omics and electronic health records to elucidate the genetic architecture of preterm birth

Jonghwan Kim Ph.D.
University of Texas-Austin
Identifying genetic factors controlling normal and abnormal placental development

Tippi C. MacKenzie M.D.
University of California-San Francisco
A precision medicine approach to detect dysbiosis and immune activation in preterm birth

Kimani C. Toussaint Ph.D.
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Investigating the mechanobiology of cervical remodeling using a novel combination of optical microscopy and nanoindentation

Ge Zhang M.D., Ph.D.
University of Cincinnati
Genomic study of gestational length and preterm birth