November 14, 2017

Despite all of our medical advances in recent years, preterm birth remains an enormous issue. In fact, about 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely—before 37 weeks—each year in the United States. Further complicating the issue, the cause of preterm birth is unknown in about 50% of cases. What we do know is that preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths.

That is a lot of information to absorb at once, but Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) is up to the task. Because prematurity impacts such a large population, it’s one of our top priorities. Thanks to our ongoing clinical research, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is equipped with cutting-edge technology and medical professionals prepared to save lives.

The Long-term Effects of Prematurity

The effects of preterm birth on a baby can be long lasting and widespread. While dedicated doctors and nurses in neonatal intensive care units do everything they can to support a preterm baby, some required treatments may cause stress or pain. These experiences, encountered during such sensitive periods of physical, mental, and emotional development, may contribute to problems later in life.

Children born prematurely are at a greater potential risk for behavioral problems, including those stemming from heightening anxiety and attention disorders. These children are also more susceptible to autism and neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy. Preterm problems within the skull aren’t limited to the brain. Disorders in the eyes, ears, and mouth are also more prevalent among preterm babies.

Prematurity can also affect the chest and stomach. Because a preterm baby’s respiratory system is undeveloped, disease and complications are much more common. Meanwhile, intestinal issues experienced as a preterm baby may turn into complications later in life.

Moving Closer To A Solution

Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) is going above and beyond to get to the root of preterm birth, especially within families where preterm birth seems to pass down from generation to generation.

By using the Magee Obstetrical Maternal Infant (MOMI) Database and Biobank, an electronic database of more than 190,000 deliveries at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC since 1995, researchers at MWRI and the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute delve through mountains of data to develop predictive models for preventing preterm birth and infant mortality.

Using MOMI and other resources, researchers Dr. Janet Catov and Dr. Hyagriv Simhan are examining factors like nutrition, genetics, hormones, and disease in order to better understand preterm birth.

With close ties to Magee’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, our researchers and physicians collaborate to develop better treatment and programs for preterm babies and their families.

While NICU professionals are trained to handle the toughest preterm challenges, they’re also skilled at walking families through the toughest times, making sure all members of the family are physically and emotionally cared for.

That specific combination of skills was crucial back in 2013 when Rhea DiBernardo was born at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. Born prematurely at only 1lb. 10oz., her parents weren’t sure she would survive. But thanks to the professional medical staff and quality treatment backed by lab research, Rhea is now happy and healthy.

Move MWRI’s Mission Forward

Magee-Womens Research Institute and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC are working hard to end preterm births. Assist researchers by donating directly to MWRI. By keeping the research funded, we can hope to eradicate preterm births.