Funding line Next Generation Partnerships—Thematic NetworksPredicting Premature Births
9 August 2023, by Christina Krätzig
For the project Prediction of Pre-Term Birth—Prevention of Inequality Among Children, researchers at Universität Hamburg are working with colleagues from Groningen and Stanford to study the blood of pregnant women for clues to the risk of premature births.
Professor of medicine Petra Arck from Universität Hamburg is researching whether the blood of pregnant women gives clues to possible premature birth, thanks to funding through the Excellence Strategy of the Federal and State Governments.
Almost every tenth pregnancy ends in a pre-term birth. This means that the baby is born before the 37th week. Most premature babies survive but they often struggle with the effects into adulthood. For example, they are more susceptible to infection, allergies, and asthma or their ability to work, compared to that of people not born prematurely, is impaired.
To find out whether there are hidden clues in the bodies of pregnant women that indicate the risk of a pre-term birth, Prof. Arck wants to draw upon a dataset collected at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf over the last 10 years. During that period, a research team monitored 800 healthy women throughout their pregnancies. All of the pregnant women were asked multiple times about their habits and well-being and were also given medical examinations at which they gave blood samples that are still stored today.
“Every blood sample can be analyzed for thousands of biological markers, for example, the kinds and numbers of immune cells and hormone profiles,” explains Petra Arck. Together with colleagues from Universität Hamburg, the University of Groningen, and Stanford University, Arck will use use methods of analysis to identify, in the large amounts of data, any peculiarities in the blood of the subjects that point to a later pre-term birth. In the study, roughly 10 percent of the children were premature, in line with the statistical probability. At present, however, it is not clear why.
“Full-term births are initiated in the body of the mother-to-be through inflammatory processes,” says Arck. She and her team now want to find out whether these inflammatory processes might be prematurely triggered in the case of pre-term births or whether pre-term births are triggered by immunological gaffes.
This project can thus provide researchers with important clues as to how they might discover pre-term birth risks at an early stage. If this were possible, women could be intensively monitored during their pregnancies in the future, perhaps leading to fewer babies being born prematurely.
Petra Arck is a professor of experimental fetal and maternal medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, where she works in the Department of Obstetrics and Fetal Medicine.
Funding line Next Generation Partnerships—Thematic Networks
The goal of this funding line is to support researchers at Universität Hamburg further build and develop sustainable, multilateral networks. At least 2 other universities must be involved, of which at least one must be a strategic partner university of Universität Hamburg. Projects receive €60,000 annually for three years.