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Researchers Aim to Prevent Global Prematurity and Stillbirths

February 18, 2008

 Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute announced today that it has received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study ways to prevent global prematurity and stillbirth.

Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute announced today that it has received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study ways to prevent global prematurity and stillbirth. Prematurity claims the lives of over 1 million newborn babies worldwide each year.

It is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States with over 10,000 babies dying each year. Over 3 million babies are stillborn each year worldwide, and it is believed that many of these deaths are caused by the same factors that cause prematurity. The grant will be used to review current published literature and identify opportunities for new areas of research to reduce the incidence of prematurity and stillbirths worldwide. Seattle Children’s is spearheading the study and will host an international summit in Seattle in 2009 to bring together the world’s foremost experts in this field.

“Prematurity and stillbirth contribute to a significant burden of disease worldwide, and there is an urgent need to learn more about the causes and develop effective preventive measures,” said Dan Kraushaar, ScD, MPH, Deputy Director for Integrated Health Solutions Development at the Gates Foundation. “According to The Lancet, there are millions of stillbirths and countless premature births every year in developing countries, and the problem may be under-counted due to poorly functioning vital events registration systems in these countries. In addition, maternal mortality rates can be very high following stillbirths.”

“In the U.S., neonatal intensive care units see the devastating effect of premature births every day,” said Thomas N. Hansen, MD, CEO at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center and a co-investigator. “Parents the world over need to know the medical community is coming together to address this universal global issue. Children’s is pleased to join ranks with other groundbreaking researchers - together we can all contribute to improving infant and maternal health throughout the developing world and right here at home.”

“We believe it is our responsibility to help solve this global problem and have committed the resources to form a new office at Children’s to specifically address prematurity and stillbirths,” continued Hansen. “The office will be directed by Dr. Craig Rubens, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and will be based at the hospital and closely linked to our Research Institute.”

Over 500,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. each year. In 2004, 1 of 8 babies was born prematurely and between 1994 and 2004 the rate of infants born prematurely in the U.S. climbed nearly 14 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Prematurity rates are growing in Latin America as well.

“Bringing together the research literature and the world’s leading stillbirth and prematurity scientists will allow us to build a critical research agenda for the future. This is an area in medicine that has yet to receive the funding levels and attention it needs,” said the grant’s principal investigator Craig Rubens, MD, PhD, director, Office for Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirths at Children’s. “With the help of the Gates Foundation we are establishing important partnerships with global organizations, such as UNICEF and the March of Dimes, to strengthen our efforts through collaboration. It’s our goal to develop an internationally focused, comprehensive research program to fully understand what causes premature births, including those that result in stillbirths, and how to prevent them on a global level.”

Rubens is developing an international scientific advisory committee made up of experts representing major health centers and organizations, who have a strong history of leadership and contribution to maternal, neonatal and child health issues within low, middle or high income countries. This committee will advise the researchers on their findings and guide development of the program content for the international summit.

Researchers include:
Fernando Barros - Investigator, Universidade Católica de Pelotas; Pelotas, Brazil
Zulfiqar Bhutta. - Investigator, Aga Khan University; Karachi, Pakistan
Mike Gravett - Investigator, University of Washington School of Medicine; Seattle, WA, USA
Tom Hansen - CEO of Children’s Hospital and Co-PI of the Program; Seattle, WA, USA
Joy Lawn - Investigator, Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children-US; Cape Town, South Africa
Craig Rubens - Principle Investigator, Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine; Seattle, WA, USA
Cynthia Stanton - Investigator, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA
Cesar Victora - Investigator, University of Pelotas; Pelotas, Brazil

The objectives of the Office for Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirth are to; identify mechanisms, causes and risk factors for prematurity and stillbirths that will lead to the development of new diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic interventions around the globe.

For more information, please visit Prematurity.

About Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. As part of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the research institute brings together leading minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research.

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