Vanderbilt research efforts focus on the problem of premature birth

November 17 is designated World Prematurity Day, and is intended to bring light to a stubborn global problem.  Premature birth is the leading cause of neonatal death worldwide, with an estimated 15 million babies born premature.  Throughout their lives, infants born prematurely are also at higher risk of developing other health problems and disabilities when compared to full term babies, compounding the problem.

In recognition of World Prematurity Day, we are spotlighting Vanderbilt research programs that focus on this challenge.  Our researchers are developing new methods to predict and mitigate the likelihood of premature birth, track the growth of premature infants, and identify infant populations likely to benefit from life-saving prophylaxis for respiratory infections.

1. Dr. Kaylon Bruner-Tran and Dr. Kevin Osteen from Vanderbilt Women’s Reproductive Health Research Center are developing a diagnostic test to measure paternal risk factors for premature birth. Existing risk factors and interventions for premature birth focus solely on maternal influence. This technology identifies the overlooked paternal factors that influence an infant’s development, and identifies a therapeutic intervention to reduce premature birth risk. Learn more about this technology here.

2. A growth chart to measure the progress of prematurely born children has been developed by Dr. William Riddle from the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences.  Uniquely, this growth chart is applicable across the continuum of care, beginning within the environment of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and after discharge.  Current practice involves using two charts, which track growth differently before and after discharge.  In particular, the growth chart modernizes previous practices which often relied upon comparisons to full-term infants, and data from populations of a different era that did not include extremely premature infants.  The growth chart is currently being developed into a mobile app to facilitate ease of use for parents.  Learn more about this technology here.

3. Dr. Fernando P. Polack, Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, and collaborator Steven R. Kleeberger of the NIEHS-NIH have developed a prognostic test that identifies infants at high-risk for severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections.  RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations worldwide, affecting 3.4 - 4.0 million infants. The prognostic test measures a mutation in a single gene, along with a quantifiable environmental factor that confers susceptibility. The goal is to direct prophylaxis to those infants most likely to benefit from preventative care, saving lives and reducing healthcare costs.  Learn more about this technology here.