Every year, more than 50,000 babies are born premature in the United States. Despite the notable advances in neonatal care, these premature infants often suffer from preterm birth complications – the single largest cause of infant mortality. In order to better understand preterm birth, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Medical Center (OSUMC) have partnered to form the Ohio Perinatal Research Network (OPRN).
OPRN is a collaborative among clinicians and scientists from medical and research institutions with a shared goal of examining risk factors, associated complications and helping prevent preterm births. This partnership will ultimately help improve the lives of children and their families in Ohio and beyond by discovering and implementing actions that measurably reduce prematurity and its associated morbidity and mortality.
“While the morbidities associated with preterm birth do not affect every preterm infant, this collaborative will help researchers learn to recognize the problem of prematurity and also help understand why some preterm infants suffer serious short term and long term complications while others do not,” said Mark Klebanoff, MD, MPH, director of OPRN at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “The first step is to collect the data. By collecting specimens, this will allow us to work toward our ultimate goal of helping predict who will deliver early and who might have complications in their delivery.”
The first major initiative of OPRN is the Perinatal Research Repository. Unlike other repositories, this repository will collect clinical data and specimens from the entire family including the premature infant, the mother and the father. The information gathered will be used in research about how to prevent, diagnose and treat prematurity and the diseases and complications that may result from preterm birth. This integrated centralized data and specimen repository will be accessible to collaborating OPRN researchers and institutions while including information about pregnancy outcome, neonatal morbidity and mortality and ultimately childhood outcomes.
“Most people think that preterm birth is a problem that has been solved by the modern technology of neonatal intensive care, but that’s a misperception,” said Jay Iams, MD, division of Maternal and Fetal Medicine at OSUMC. “Despite wonderful advances in care for tiny preterm newborns, preterm birth is still the leading cause of perinatal and infant deaths in Ohio and in the U.S. This joint research collaboration is needed to help families and communities answer and better understand the factors contributing to the impacts of preterm birth.”
OPRN researchers will examine an array of factors that contribute to the increased risk of preterm birth. In fact, one important factor to be examined is the health disparities associated with African-American infant deaths related to preterm birth. African-Americans comprised 28 percent of all live births, but counted for 56 percent of all infant deaths due to preterm births.
“African-American preterm births are strikingly high within the general population,” said Dr. Klebanoff. “We are very interested in studying preterm births to help understand the racial disparity.”
This unique partnership is poised to provide scientific answers to the current national epidemic of preterm birth, which will result in decreased preterm delivery and infant mortality for Ohio and beyond.