UI Pediatrician Receives March of Dimes Grant for Preterm Birth Research

University of Iowa pediatrician Jeff Murray, MD, is one of five researchers from four states investigating how genetics and infections interact to cause preterm birth as well as how proteins and hormones regulate a healthy pregnancy, all with the goal of giving more babies a healthy start in life. The March of Dimes announced Tuesday, March 5, 2013, plans to fund the five studies.

Murray, a UI professor of neonatology and genetics, biological sciences, epidemiology, and dentistry, has identified possible genes involved in preterm birth with the support of a prior March of Dimes grant. This new grant, $450,000 over three years, will allow him to build on his past discoveries with the goal of improving health care providers’ ability to predict which women are at high risk of delivering their baby too soon. Working with Murray in the study are Kelli Ryckman, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health, and Kristi Borowski, MD, formerly a researcher at UI Carver College of Medicine and now at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Nearly half a million babies – one out of every nine – are born too soon each year in the United States. Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the nation $26 billion annually. It is the leading cause of neonatal death, and babies who survive an early birth have increased risks of lung disease, cerebral palsy, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, problems that can affect their health throughout their lives.

In 2011, the US preterm birth rate dropped to 11.7, the lowest in a decade, but still above the March of Dimes goal of lowering the national rate to 9.6 percent. That goal can be achieved in part by applying known strategies to prevent preterm birth, such as smoking cessation programs, progesterone treatments, and reducing early elective deliveries, the March of Dimes says. But the organization also believes continued research is needed to yield new medical advances to meet the goal.

The grants are awarded for three years and bring the March of Dimes nine-year-old Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI) Grant program’s total grant to nearly $24 million. The PRI program is one of several March of Dimes grant programs available to researchers.

Other new grant recipients are:

  • Louis Ragolia, PhD, director of Biomedical Research, Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, NY
  • Indira U. Mysorekar, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO
  • Francesco J. DeMayo, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
  • Ruth Ann Word, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.