04:31am Saturday 25 January 2020

Innovative research project aims to prevent preterm birth

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan has earned support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health to study a leading cause of premature birth.

David M. Aronoff, M.D., with an interdisciplinary team of experts in microbiology, immunology, reproductive biology, and vaccine development, will examine how infections of the female reproductive tract evade the immune system, resulting in infections of the uterus that cause preterm birth and stillbirth.

Of the 15 million babies born too soon every year, more than 1 million die in infancy, making prematurity the second-leading cause of death for children under age 5 worldwide.

The U-M’s work will research drug targets to prevent group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections. The GBS pathogen has been identified as the leading cause of premature births in low-income countries.

But it’s expected that the research conducted by investigators in laboratories and hospitals in the U.S. and South Africa will set the stage for improving maternal and fetal medicine for women everywhere.

The causes of preterm birth are often unknown and strategies for prevention are limited. The projects funded by the Preventing Preterm Birth initiative part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health, will advance discovery of the underlying causes of preterm birth, particularly how infection, inflammation, and immune and hormonal responses disrupt healthy pregnancies.

“We urgently need new tools and need to develop new solutions to give every baby a healthy start to life.  These new projects are a critical step on the path to preventing preterm birth,” says Gary Darmstadt, director of Family Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The awards were announced this week by the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS). More than 320 applications were received from 50 countries, with the top five applications awarded grants of up to $2 million to fund their projects for two to four years.

This innovative agenda spans the research spectrum from bench science to field research in low-and middle income countries, all with a focus on translating research to action.

Grand Challenges in Global Health is a global partnership first launched by the Gates Foundation and others in 2003 that seeks to engage the world’s most creative minds to work on scientific and technological breakthroughs for the most pressing global health and development challenges.

Aronoff, the principal investigator, is an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the U-M Health System and a member of the Reproductive Sciences Program. He will collaborate with Rita Loch-Caruso, Ph.D., professor of environmental health services at the U-M School of Public Health and expert in environmental triggers of premature birth; Chuanwu XI, Ph.D., assistant professor at the U-M SPH; Mark Chames, M.D., obstetrician at the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, and Hui Jiang, assistant professor of biostatistics at the U-M.



University of Michigan Health System


University of Michigan School of Public Health


Women’s Health services at the University of Michigan Health System


Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth


Media Contact: Shantell Kirkendoll 734-764-2220

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