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Health Team

March of Dimes designates Duke as research center for premature births

Posted June 3, 2015

Rotcelis Jones is in her third pregnancy.

The first ended with a miscarriage at 17 weeks, and her second ended at 20 weeks after early contractions. The baby didn't survive.

“It was devastating,” she said. “It was completely devastating to us.”

Now, Jones is getting special attention at Duke University Hospital in a program for women with high-risk pregnancies.

The March of Dimes has designated Duke, in collaboration with the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, as its fifth Prematurity Research Center.

“It is something that has never been done before to the scale and size across the country, pulling together these five entities,” said Jeff Furst, North Carolina director for the March of Dimes.

The United States still has one of the highest prematurity rates among developed nations of the world. A total of 11.4 percent of children are born before full term.

North Carolina ranks above the national average at 12 percent. Many of those babies die or grow up to have physical or development issues.

The reasons why so many are born early aren't clear. The research centers hope to find answers.

“Really, those centers are designed to better understand why women deliver pre-term, with the hope that we can develop targeted strategies that can prevent pre-term births,” said Dr. Amy Murtha, an ob-gyn at Duke who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Duke's collaborative group hopes to identify regulatory genes that ensure a pregnancy continues to full term. Researchers also will look at how stress may influence those genes.

Murtha says a history of preterm births is the biggest risk factor for women such as Jones who have already suffered great emotional loss.

“We really want to be able to identify moms in their first pregnancies,” she said.

Special care has helped Jones feel optimistic of making it to full term, which is at least 37 weeks.

“Right now I am 30 weeks and two days, and everything's been going great,” Jones said.

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