Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, and
Ge Zhang, MD, PhD

A massive DNA analysis, based on data from more than 50,000 women, could lead to new ways to prevent the leading cause of infant mortality. 

The study, published in September in The New England Journal of Medicine, identifies six gene regions that influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. One of the gene regions indicates a potentially important role for the mineral selenium in the diets of pregnant women. Another suggests that cells within the lining of the uterus play a larger-than-expected role in the length of pregnancy, which in turn provides a new target for medications to help prevent preterm birth.

Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, Co-Director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s and principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center—Ohio Collaborative, coordinated the study with first author Ge Zhang, MD, PhD, of the Division of Human Genetics. The globe-spanning team also included researchers from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the genetic testing company 23andMe. 

“Previous research has suggested that about 30 to 40 percent of the risk for preterm birth is linked to genetic factors. This new study is the first to provide robust information as to what some of those genetic factors actually are,” Muglia says.