What is Preterm Birth?
The World Health Organisation defines preterm birth as ‘babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed’. There are three categories of preterm birth:
1. Moderate to Late preterm birth: 32 – 37 weeks gestation
2. Very preterm birth: 28 – 32 weeks gestation
3. Extreme preterm birth: less than 28 weeks
The Problem of Preterm Birth
Every year, approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely; this is more than one in ten of all babies born around the world. Deaths in the first months of life account for 40 percent of all deaths amongst children aged less than five. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in the first weeks of life, and is associated with up to 75 percent of childhood health problems such as cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness, developmental delays and learning difficulties.
The last few decades have seen considerable investment in neonatal research and clinical care, resulting in significant improvements in the survival of preterm infants. Unfortunately, this improvement has not been seen in the in prevention of prematurity. This may be due to difficulty identifying women who will deliver preterm, a lack of treatments to offer, and trouble obtaining research funding into this important area of research.
New hope and “Green‐shoots” are now appearing the field of preterm birth prevention. In 2011 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of progesterone in pregnancy – this is the first time in history the FDA has approved a drug for the purpose of preventing preterm birth.
For the best chances of reducing preterm birth, care and treatment need to be tailored to each pregnancy and woman. The concept of personalized medicine combines genetic, phenotypic and environmental information with traditional clinical diagnoses and treatments to provide care that takes into account a person’s genes, symptoms and environment.
There is growing evidence that genetics play an important role in preterm birth ‐ it is currently estimated that genetics influence up to a third of preterm births. To closely investigate the genetics of preterm birth, the Preterm Birth Genome Project (PGP) was established in 2007 by a multinational team of scientists, clinicians and clinical academics. This research collaborative is dedicated to i) identifying genes associated with increased susceptibility to delivering preterm, and ii) developing methods to reduce preterm birth based upon this information. Personalised medicine will allow the right treatments to be targeted to the right woman, meaning that the treatment will be as effective as possible at reducing preterm birth.
PREBIC's Role in Preterm Birth Prevention
PREBIC’s role in Preterm Birth Prevention PREBIC brings together scientists, clinicians and clinical academics from around the world to focus on the problem of preterm birth. This group of dedicated collaborative members identify gaps in the current knowledge base, and devise ways of addressing these areas for improvement. During workshops, collaborative members focus on key areas such as genetics, bio‐markers, and systems biology. The consortium aims to draw upon the multinational resources available through it’s members, develop global partnerships, and foster multinational projects to address the global problem of preterm birth.