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New database expected to strengthen prematurity research

A new online tool will make it easier for researchers to share many types of data from scientific studies of premature birth.

The recently launched March of Dimes Database for Preterm Birth Research brings together information collected at five prematurity research centers funded by the March of Dimes, including Stanford's. Around the world, premature birth is now the most common killer of children under 5, and today, which is World Prematurity Day, is a great time to talk about how the database could foster new scientific collaborations to address the problem.

"We want to make pregnancy and preterm birth data available to computational and biomedical researchers so they can figure out how to integrate the data in new ways, ask new questions and move the science along faster," said Marina Sirota, PhD, who is leading the project to construct and maintain the database. Sirota is an assistant professor at the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and is part of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford.

Of the 10 studies whose data has been cataloged so far, six were conducted at Stanford. This includes work by David Relman, MD, to understand the impact of the vaginal microbiome on preterm birth; an investigation by Brice Gaudillere, MD, PhD, of how the immune system keeps time in pregnancy; and work by Stephen Quake, PhD, to understand how RNA in the mother's blood can be used to track the development of fetal organs during pregnancy. Each of these discoveries was exciting on its own, and it's pretty cool to think there may be a lot more that scientists can learn from delving further into the data.

Broad data-sharing efforts have already succeeded in other areas of medical research, Sirota told me.  "The cancer community has really figured this out," she said. "They have taken over 10,000 cancer samples and carried out various types of 'omics' on them: genomics, transcriptomics, gene methylation measurements, proteomics, and so on. They have really leveraged the data to make new discoveries far beyond what a single investigator or even a small group of investigators could do." She's looking forward to seeing the same collaborative power make a difference for prematurity research.

Previously: Stanford researchers refine bacterial signature associated with premature birth, Stanford scientists find the immune clock of pregnancy to help understand preterm birth and Step away from the DNA? Circulating *RNA* in blood gives dynamic information about pregnancy, health
Photo by Michael Sharman

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