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New research center aims to understand premature birth

The March of Dimes and the Stanford's medical school are today launching a new research center dedicated to understanding and preventing preterm birth. The new effort, the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine, seeks to find novel approaches to a mysterious public health problem that affects 12 percent of U.S. births.

Infants born more than three weeks early are at risk for cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and impaired vision and hearing, among other health challenges. Preterm birth costs the U.S. $26 billion per year, or $30,000 to $50,000 per infant. And prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first 28 days of life. Yet in more than half of preterm deliveries, no cause can be identified.

The center will be funded by an initial $2 million grant from March of Dimes, which intends to continue providing funding for 10 years. From a recent Inside Stanford Medicine article:

“The rate of preterm delivery is increasing,” said David Stevenson, MD, principal investigator of the new center. “There’s a clear need for new research that addresses this challenging public health problem.”

The new center will take an unusual approach to studying the problem of preterm birth. It will bring together Stanford researchers from a wide cross-section of disciplines - from obstetrics and neonatology to biomedical informatics, sociology and engineering - to plan and execute new research projects in a way that combines the know-how of all disciplines throughout the discovery process. And:

The new center has four goals: understanding the pathways that lead to preterm birth; predicting which women are at risk of delivering early; translating this research into clinical interventions and policy changes to prevent preterm delivery; and reducing the social disparities that contribute to preterm birth.


"We are confident that this long-term collaboration between Stanford and the March of Dimes will ultimately make a big difference to help prevent preterm delivery and improve neonates’ health,” Stevenson said.

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