WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., FEB. 11, 2009 Scientists intend to identify microbes that may cause preterm labor in some women, investigate the role of an enzyme in preventing uterine contractions and an early birth, and look at different groups of women to find genetic and environmental risk factors for prematurity.
The work of seven researchers will be supported for the next three years by new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) grants. The nearly $2.7 million in new grants continues March of Dimes support for efforts to predict and prevent preterm birth. These 2009 grants bring the five-year-old program's grant total to nearly $14 million.
"This research is critical to ending the epidemic of preterm birth," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the organization. "That's why we created the PRI grants and continue to award them even in these difficult economic times. Because the goal is for every baby to be born healthy and full-term."
Jennifer Condon, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, is one of the new PRI grant recipients who's seeking clues to what causes both normal labor and premature labor. Her work focuses on an enzyme called caspase-3 that typically is involved in cell turnover.
"We think we've found a central mechanism for why the pregnant uterus usually stays quiet for nine months," Dr. Condon says. "Caspase-3 may be what prevents the uterus from contracting during a normal, healthy pregnancy. We hypothesize that inappropriate elimination of this enzyme from the pregnant uterus may be the cause of the onset of preterm labor."
Caspase-3 is positively regulated by progesterone and other studies have shown that regular injections of a form of progesterone found naturally during pregnancy can prevent some preterm births in women who have had a prior preterm birth.
"The March of Dimes is the only major health charity supporting basic research on the causes of premature labor, so
|Contact: Elizabeth Lynch|
March of Dimes Foundation