UChicago Medicine to lead $10 million March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center

Dean Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD; Carole Ober, PhD, primary investigator; and Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago were joined by the Jackson family, March of Dimes ambassadors, Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, and researchers from Duke University and Northwestern University for the official launch of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center based at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Dean Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD; Carole Ober, PhD, primary investigator; and Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago were joined by the Jackson family, March of Dimes ambassadors, Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, and researchers from Duke University and Northwestern University for the official launch of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center based at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Collaboration with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine to study gene regulation in normal, preterm pregnancies

Preterm births continue to be a critical health problem in this country, despite all the medical knowledge about babies born too soon and the modern technology used to treat them. While the critical challenges facing babies born before 37 weeks are known and well-documented, what is not understood are the causes a woman goes prematurely into labor.

In an aggressive effort to fill this vast knowledge gap, the University of Chicago Medicine has joined forces with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine and the March of Dimes Foundation to establish a collaborative aimed at unraveling the mysteries of premature birth and helping more women have healthy, full-term babies.

Leaders and researchers from each institution today announced the launch of a new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center that will focus on identifying the regulatory genes responsible for ensuring a pregnancy continues to full term and how stress can influence those genes. The center will be led by Carole Ober, PhD, Blum-Riese Professor and chair of the Department of Human Genetics in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago. The March of Dimes will commit $10 million over the next five years toward the effort.

The center is the fifth nationwide devoted to prematurity research. The Chicago collaborative will engage investigators from various disciplines including genetics, bioinformatics, stem cell biology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, statistics, computer science, and epidemiology from across the three academic medical centers. Ober anticipates fresh insights from this multidisciplinary team of world-renowned experts could reveal new gene expression pathways and novel therapeutic strategies for altering the expression of relevant genes, resulting in lower preterm birth rates.

Carole Ober, PhD

Carole Ober, PhD

“Today, we understand virtually nothing about the cellular and molecular mechanisms that trigger normal birth,” Ober said. “Our center will focus on one central question: Does the mis-regulation of key genes cause premature birth? We’ll approach this challenge from two angles: first studying the changes that happen in normal pregnancy with respect to gene regulation and then trying to understand what part of those mechanisms go awry.”

The scope of the project is so large Ober immediately recognized the need to assimilate an adept and driven team. “The strength of the center,” she said, “lies in the seamless collaboration of many talented researchers with diverse expertise who share a common commitment to unraveling the causes of preterm birth.”

Read more about today’s announcement in our Newsroom.

To learn more about the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Duke University, March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center visit: http://prematurityresearch.org/uchicago-northwestern-duke.

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