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Preterm birth issues

New KCH professor gets NIH grant to study how social vulnerability contributes to pre-term births

Sarah Geiger, an incoming assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health in the College of Applied Health Sciences, has received a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s ECHO Opportunities and Infrastructure Fund to study how social vulnerability contributes to pre-term births.

Geiger’s study is entitled, “Oxidative stress and inflammation biomarkers in relation to birth outcomes in four ECHO cohorts. As Geiger explained, babies are born too early for all sorts of reasons, but pre-term birth of a baby puts them at risk for various health problems. Pre-term birth is also really expensive for society, she said. In 2017, for example approximately four million babies were born preterm in the U.S. and preterm birth contributes an estimated $6 billion in health care costs within the first year of life.

“We want to learn more about how social vulnerability—things like being poor, stressed out, living as a racial or ethnic minority, and even being exposed to common environmental chemicals—contribute to pre-term birth,” Geiger said. “To do this, we want to explore what's going on in women's bodies when this happens, specifically biological pathways of oxidative stress and inflammation.”

Geiger’s study proposes to characterize biological pathways for preterm birth in four ECHO birth cohorts—including one at Illinois Kids Development Study in Champaign-Urbana—by applying a novel method to quantify the proportion of 8-iso-PGF2α derived from oxidative stress and inflammation mechanisms using the ratio of 8-iso-PGF2α to PGF2α. Previous studies have linked elevated levels of oxidative stress biomarkers to preterm birth, but it is difficult to distinguish between oxidative stress and inflammation, and, Geiger suggests, her study’s approach might address this data gap. 

Urine samples will be collected from more than 2,000 women, with about 350 in Champaign-Urbana. The other cohort sites are Chemicals in Our Bodies at the University of California, San Francisco; Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats at Northeastern University; and The Infant Development and the Environment Study, at Mount Sinai, University of California, San Francisco, University of Rochester Medical Center, and University of Minnesota.

The study will begin in the fall, and next steps at our site will be preparing urine samples to send to a lab for biomarker measures, Geiger said.

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