March 10, 2014

Seattle Children’s Funds Innovative Research Sites to Study Preterm Birth

Director of External Relations
Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth

This post—written by Sarah Alexander, director of external relations at the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS)—originally appeared in Seattle Children’s On the Pulse blog on March 5th. She shares about a new initiative aimed at developing new strategies to prevent preterm births.

Globally, 15 million babies are born preterm each year, and more than 1 million of those do not survive their first month of life. Being born preterm—before 37 weeks gestation—increases the chance of birth complications, developmental disabilities, and lifelong health issues like cerebral palsy, asthma, and vision and hearing problems.

Sarah Alexander, director of external relations at GAPPS.
Sarah Alexander, director of external relations at GAPPS.

Last week, GAPPS—an initiative of Seattle Children’s—announced it is granting a total of $2.8 million to two international pregnancy research sites as part of its Preventing Preterm Birth initiative (PPB). The international sites will mirror similar sites GAPPS has developed in the US, and will enroll women early in pregnancy and collect information and biological specimens during their pregnancies and deliveries.

The data and specimens collected will be used to advance innovative research into the causes of preterm birth and identify novel strategies for prevention. Areas of investigation will include studies of infection, inflammation, the microbiome, the immune response, and other pathways leading to increased risk of preterm delivery.


In Lusaka, Zambia, Jeffrey Stringer, MD, an obstetrician and director of the University of North Carolina Global Women’s Health group, will oversee a team of Zambian and US researchers in enrolling 2,000 high-risk pregnant women over a 3-year period.

Dr. Stringer, who lived and worked in Zambia for more than a decade, has seen firsthand how the prevalence of infant death impacts families. “There is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child. Whether you live in North America or Zambia, this is a universal truth,” Stringer said. He added, “We will set up a carefully monitored cohort of women and their newborns so we can evaluate the causes of prematurity and figure out ways to prevent it.”


In Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman, PhD, head of the Matlab Health Research Centre at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), will work with his team to enroll 4,700 pregnant women over three years.

“We have a very good system for identifying pregnancy, as well as for staying in contact with mothers and babies after pregnancy to collect follow-up data and samples,” Rahman said. “Our center has the potential to contribute a lot to global research, because preterm birth is shared by both developed and developing countries.”

Preventing Preterm Birth initiative (PPB)

The PPB seeks to discover biological mechanisms that lead to preterm births and develop novel interventions to prevent them. GAPPS has funded seven research projects through the PPB, and those investigators will work in collaboration with these international cohorts of pregnant women, which will allow them to develop interventions to prevent preterm birth.

“Increasingly, evidence suggests that poor maternal and fetal health set in motion an irreversible trajectory with serious negative consequences for health in infancy, childhood, and adulthood,” said Eve Lackritz, MD, senior program officer for GAPPS. “Preterm birth research has been hampered by a lack of well-designed pregnancy cohorts in low-resource countries, and developing these two new sites will help to fill that void and lead to broadly-applicable preventive and therapeutic interventions to prevent preterm birth and stillbirth.”

For more information, check out these resources:
- Preventing Preterm Birth initiative
- Grand Challenges