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NIH to Fund Research of Microbiome Connection to Preterm Labor

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute of Nursing Research is planning to fund studies that partner microbial genomics and environmental science projects to discover how the microbial communities in pregnant women may play a role in preterm labor, a major cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity.

NINR plans to award $2 million this year for research that seeks to determine if and how the microbiomes of pregnant women interact with their bodies, fetuses, and environmental factors to cause women to go into labor before 37 weeks.

These interdisciplinary projects — collaborations with nurses are encouraged — will build on previous findings from the Human Microbiome Project about changes that occur in the microbiome during pregnancy. Evidence that suggests that bacteria in the intra-uterine environment may be responsible for as many as 40 percent of preterm births, according to the institute.

There are several potential sites for bacterial infections within the uterus, and microorganisms can enter the amniotic cavity through various paths, although most commonly from the vagina and cervix. Bacterial vaginosis is a known risk factor for preterm labor and delivery and late-term miscarriages, NINR said.

The preterm birth rate in the US in 2011 was 12.2 percent, and preterm births cost the US an estimated $26 billion in 2005, or around $52,000 per infant, according to an Institute of Medicine report. Infants who are born preterm are at an increased risk of life-long disability, poor health, and early death when compared with infants who are born at full-term.

The studies to be funded by NINR are expected to employ a range of approaches to understanding the interaction between the microbiome, genetics, and environment in preterm labor.

These research projects could include studies of genomic and epigenomic variants that interact with the microbiome; biomarkers that reflect changes in the woman's microbiome that could be used as risk indicators for preterm labor; symptoms that are associated with changes in the microbiome in women who experience preterm labor; the influence of bacteria in preterm labor; mechanisms that relate to inflammatory response to bacterial invasions and perturbations in the microbiome; the role of sociodemographic factors that may influence the microbiome in predisposing women to preterm labor; and physiological, environmental, and social behavioral factors that may influence the microbiome in predisposing women to preterm labor.

NINR plans to provide up to $350,00 to six of these research projects this year.

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