March of Dimes provides $400,000 for preterm birth research

SAN ANTONIO (March 8, 2011) – With the help of funding from the March of Dimes, a UT Health Science Center San Antonio researcher is working to expand knowledge about how to predict and prevent early births.

Leslie Myatt, Ph.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Health Science Center School of Medicine and co-director of the Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research, is studying how environments both within and outside the uterus turn genes on and off and influence the timing of uterine contractions and the length of pregnancy.

He is one of five scientists nationwide whose work will be supported by March of Dimes Prematurity Research Initiative grants, announced today.

“We realize that not just genes alone, but their interaction and regulation by environmental factors such as pollutants, lifestyle, stress, maternal obesity or infection, may control the length of gestation and cause preterm birth,” Dr Myatt said.

Preterm birth, defined as birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, remains a leading cause of infant death in the United States. Infants who survive an early birth are more likely to face serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy.

“New research is critical if we hope to continue the recent two-year decline of our nation’s preterm birth rate,” said Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., president of the March of Dimes. “We’re proud to support the work of researchers such as Dr. Myatt, with the hope that they will build on what we already know about the causes and prevention of prematurity so that more babies will get a healthy start in life.”

Following three decades of increases, in 2008 the nation saw the first two-year decline in the preterm birth rate, to 12.3 percent. Despite the improvement, more than half a million babies are born too soon each year.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies®, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

The Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research has been in existence for six years. Its researchers study developmental programming, the concept that if suboptimal conditions exist before birth, tissues develop incorrectly, leading to lifelong health consequences. Dr. Myatt is the center co-director with Peter Nathanielsz, M.D., Ph.D.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving U.S. federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit

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