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March of Dimes, Stanford Launch Premature Birth Center

By a GenomeWeb Staff Reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Stanford University in a partnership with the March of Dimes Foundation launched a new center that will use an interdisciplinary approach that includes genomics research to identify the causes of premature birth.

The research center at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine will use a $2 million contribution from the foundation to bring together specialists in a range of areas, such as genetics, neonatology, computer science, and artificial intelligence, to study this problem.

Premature birth is the number one cause of death in newborns in the US, but nearly half of the time there is no identifiable cause for the prematurity, Stanford said.

"Premature birth is far more common — and more serious — than most people realize," Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said in a statement.

"Some mothers who have done everything right still go into labor early, which puts their baby's health at risk — and right now, medical science has no answers for them," she said.

"That's why we're working with Stanford to develop an innovative new research approach to examine the problem from every angle and find the answers that will allow us, one day, to prevent premature birth," she added.

The research initially will focus on four areas, including: studies of maternal genetic biomarkers that that identify maternal genes and proteins that could indicate premature birth; studies of the effects of placental genetics on premature birth; research into how infection and inflammation and immune response could contribute to prematurity; and analysis of databases to identify premature birth patterns in relation to seasonal, weather, geographical, regional health risks using artificial intelligence theory.

"This transdisciplinary approach is important because we have to address all the factors that might contribute to a mother delivering a baby early," added David Stevenson, a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

"We're not making any a priori assumptions about the biological or environmental factors that contribute to premature birth," Stevenson said. "Our goal is to test new hypotheses and make discoveries that will reduce premature birth."

The March of Dimes will continue supporting the center until 2020, Stanford said.

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