March of Dimes commits additional $2.4 million to prematurity research

Six innovative scientists chosen for their work to predict and prevent preterm birth

In its ongoing effort to predict and prevent premature birth, the March of Dimes will support the innovative research of six scientists with combined grants of more than $2.4 million.

The second annual Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) grants were awarded to four U.S.-based scientists, two from Connecticut, one each from California and Louisiana, and two working in other countries. The grants are awarded to the scientists for a three year period.

Several of the studies seek to find new ways to identify women who are at increased risk for premature birth by studying their genetic patterns.

Three of the research projects focus on what role a woman's inflammatory response to infection may play in triggering labor. By moderating or suppressing genes that control inflammatory response, it may be possible to prevent more premature births, which are the leading cause of newborn death in the United States.

Two projects focus on the role of the hormone progesterone in delaying early labor. Earlier studies have shown that giving women with a singleton pregnancy, who have had a previous spontaneous preterm delivery, weekly injections of progesterone can significantly reduce their risk of having a subsequent premature baby. Understanding of how the uterus responds to progesterone could allow doctors to better predict and prevent early labor.

More than a half million babies are born too soon each year and the preterm birth rate has increased 30 percent since 1981, the first year the government began tracking premature birth rates. While there are several factors that can help predict the risk of preterm birth, there is no known cause for half the cases of premature birth.

"These grants show the March of Dimes increasing investment in research to discover the causes of preterm labor," said Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "The number of premature births is now more than 500,000 annually and the long-term consequences can be very severe, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss. Supporting research is critical if we are to end this epidemic."

This year's PRI grantees are:

  • Martin Kharrazi, MPH, PhD, a researcher with the Genetic Disease Branch of the California Department of Health Services.
  • Charles J. Lockwood, MD, professor and chairman of the Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences Department, Yale University School of Medicine, CT.
  • Errol R. Norwitz, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences Department, Yale University School of Medicine, CT.
  • Johnny R. Porter, Ph.D, professor of Physiology, Medicine, and Pharmacology in the Physiology Department at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
  • Timothy Mark Frayling, PhD, a senior lecturer of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Peninsula Medical School, at the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom.
  • Jeffrey Andrew Keelan, PhD, MSc, senior lecturer at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.


The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at or its Spanish language Web site at

Todd P. Dezen, (914) 997-4608, [email protected]
Elizabeth Lynch, (914) 997-4286, [email protected]
Robert Storace, (914) 997-4622, [email protected]

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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