Doctors at Stanford University announced on Wednesday (March 30) the start of a new research effort to identify and reduce causes of premature birth.
Officials at the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit working toward the health of babies, announced a $20 million grant for the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University.
The center will be located in existing offices on Stanford's main campus, and no new building will be constructed.
"It's a different model of science," March of Dimes president Dr. Jennifer Howse said.
"Science is traditionally investigator-initiated research by one person," she said. "We're making a significant departure from that model by bringing together experts from different fields."
Fourteen specialists have been rounded up for the project, including experts working in neonatology, genetics, computer science and artificial intelligence.
The team will initially pursue four key focuses. The first focus, titled "Pattern Recognition," will involve analyzing data from national databases to look for patterns in seasonal, weather, geographical, and regional health risks and how they relate to premature birth.
The second focus, titled "Maternal Genetic Biomarkers," asks specialists to look for protein biomarkers and maternal genes indicative of early labor. The third focus, titled "Infection and Inflammation," will examine an expecting mother's health and immune response during pregnancy. The final focus, titled "Placental Characteristics," will look at genetics of the placenta.
Howse said the team has begun strategizing how it will tackle each of the four study focal points, but no plan has been made as to when initial findings will be presented to the public. The March of Dimes has made a commitment to the new center through the year 2020. A scientific review committee will evaluate the research progress of the project annually and help shape its direction, according to the organization.
Howse said the eventual goal is to bring in other universities to collaborate on the project. She said this center is the first of its kind in this field.
"It's team science," she said.