Imperial scientists join fight to prevent premature birth


A new centre investigating the causes of premature birth opens at Imperial College London.

The centre, called the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Imperial College London, is supported by a grant from Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

March of Dimes is a US charity that leads the fight for the health of all mums and babies. They support research, lead programs and provide education.

We are proud to have been selected to join the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center family Professor Phillip Bennett Director of new Imperial centre

Together with Ferring Pharmaceuticals, they selected Imperial College London as the first European partner to join its network of Prematurity Research Centers. 

These centres work towards finding the causes of premature birth, also called preterm birth, and new ways to prevent it.

The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Imperial College London will be a partnership between the College and three major London hospitals: Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea, St Mary’s, and Chelsea and Westminster. Each of these hospitals deliver around 5,000 babies a year.

Premature birth, defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and its consequences are the leading cause of death among children under age five worldwide.

Each year there are around 15 million preterm births across the world – and it is responsible for 1.1 million infant deaths.

Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including chronic lung disease, vision and hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities.

Bacteria clues

Premature birth is a complex condition with a range of causes. Recent research has suggested the bacteria that live naturally in the birth canal may play a role.

The research team at Imperial will aim to identify and characterise the complex processes between these bacteria and the mother, in order to help understand why some women are at higher risk of preterm birth.

Phillip Bennett, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial, and the principal investigator of the new centre, said: “We are proud to have been selected to join the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center family. Imperial College London and its partner hospitals have renowned clinics for supporting women who deliver preterm, as well as a long tradition of ground-breaking research in this area. As London is a truly global city, we are also fortunate to encompass a large and diverse patient population.”

He added: “Our teams of world-class scientists will be using the latest technologies, some unique to Imperial, to study how the body recognises and interacts with bacteria and other microbes in the birth canal. This will enable us to develop methods for predicting - and ultimately preventing - preterm birth.”

Too many babies born too soon

Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes, said: “We’re delighted that the talented scientists at Imperial College London will join as the sixth March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center to help us get closer to a world in which all babies are born healthy.

“It’s vital that our team is able to share information and findings with colleagues outside of the U.S., in order to accelerate the discovery of solutions to the serious problem of premature birth.”

Per Falk, Executive Vice President and Chief Science Officer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, added: “Globally, too many babies are being born too soon, and too many families are suffering the consequences.

Ferring is committed to addressing unmet patient needs in reproductive medicine and women’s health, including the growing rates of preterm birth worldwide. We believe that this new center will accelerate the development of new healthcare solutions that are urgently needed to help babies that are born earlier than expected.”

The network of March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers encompasses approximately 200 scientists in numerous fields, including obstetrics, neonatology, genetics and genomics, immunology, engineering, informatics, and social sciences.

Each March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center is assigned a theme or research target. The theme selected for Imperial College London is entitled Microbe-Host Interactions. 

See the press release of this article


Kate Wighton

Kate Wighton
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