Research on Premature Birth Boosted with $10 Million NIH Grant

Heping Zhang

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have received over $10 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for four and a half years to fund research initiatives in preterm births.

The grant from the National Institutes on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) will form a data management, statistics and informatics core at Yale and support a National Genomic and Proteomic Network for Preterm Birth Research. This five-site network will identify genetic and environmental determinants of premature birth and provide a public resource for future research on preterm birth. Other institutions conducting the research with Yale are the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Utah, the University of Texas Medical Branch and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Heping Zhang, professor of biostatistics in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health (EPH) and professor in the Child Study Center is principal investigator of the core grant to Yale School of Medicine. He will oversee study design, data management, statistics, informatics, coordination and administration of funding for the entire network.

“This multidisciplinary and multi-center network will be able to recruit a large and representative population of preterm births and utilize advanced genomic technologies and statistical methods,” said Zhang. “This combination of a large sample with the advanced technologies is critically important to the understanding of complex diseases and conditions such as preterm births.”

Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., said, “I am delighted that the NIH has chosen one of Yale’s faculty members to lead this program. Dr. Zhang is an outstanding biostatistician with much experience in leading clinical trials such as this one.”

Director of the NICHD, Duane Alexander, M.D., said the network is one of the major efforts and top priorities of the Institute. The goal of the network is to obtain an understanding of the pathophysiology of preterm birth, discover target molecules and diagnostic biomarkers and aid in innovating and implementing strategies for premature birth intervention.

Premature birth is a leading cause of infant mortality. Although advances have been made in the identification of some possible causes of prematurity, such as intrauterine infection, uterine bleeding, excessive uterine stretch, maternal psychosocial stress and fetal physiological stress, more understanding is needed to implement effective interventions.

Prakash Nadkarni, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and EPH, and Kei Cheung, assistant professor at Yale Center for Medical Informatics and Genetics, will direct the data management and informatics. Laura Ment, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Yale, and Kenneth Williams, director of Yale’s W.M. Keck Foundation Biotechnology Resource Laboratory, will provide clinical and scientific expertise. Analisa Lozano, coordinator in EPH, will serve as network coordinator.

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