Innovation & Development

NIH awards UAB three maternal and infant health grants

by Alicia Rohan
NIH Infant GrantsUAB continues to improve maternal and infant health as the only university to be a member of all three NIH perinatal networks.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is the only university to be awarded grants in all three perinatal networks from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to improve maternal and infant health.

UAB is a member of the NICHD Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network, NICHD Neonatal Research Network, and the NICHD Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research.

Over more than two decades, these networks have brought to UAB more than $20 million to fund research for pregnant women and babies, and the new awards total a $1.1 million base per year for the next five years.

“It has been a great honor and privilege to participate in these perinatal networks for the past 25 years,” said Joseph Biggio, M.D., vice chair for Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the UAB Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “Being a member of these networks has allowed us to advance the care of pregnant women and babies, especially those who are born premature.”

NICHD Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU)

Network UAB’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine was awarded $200,000 per year in base funds for the next five years. UAB has participated in the cooperative agreement for 25 years as one of 14 university-based clinical centers in the MFMU Network.

The MFMU Network focuses on answering clinical questions in maternal-fetal medicine and obstetrics in regard to the continuing problem of preterm birth through translational research, the use of genetics, and the evaluation of new technologies in the promotion of maternal-child health and prevention of disease. This award also brings UAB an additional $500,000 to $1 million each year as a result of UAB’s participation in several ongoing research projects through the Center for Women’s Reproductive Health.

UAB’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, in conjunction with other members of the MFMU Network, has published multiple studies identifying new practice procedures and treatments under the leadership of Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., professor in UAB’s MFM division and principal investigator of the MFMU Network.

In April 2016, a network study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the need for administering betamethasone, a steroid medication, to women at risk for late preterm delivery to reduce the risk of neonatal respiratory and other complications.

NICHD Neonatal Research Network (NRN)

For 25 years, UAB’s Division of Neonatology has participated in the NICHD NRN and was recently awarded $200,000 in base funds per year, with an additional $500,000 to $1 million per year to conduct additional research in the network.
The NRN was established in conjunction with the MFM Units Network to do similar research in pediatric neonatology. Areas addressed by the NRN include trials of therapies for sepsis, intraventricular hemorrhage, chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension, as well as the impact of drug exposure on child and family outcomes. Principal investigators for the network, Wally Carlo, M.D., Edwin M. Dixon Endowed Chair in Neonatology, and Namasivayam Ambalavananan, M.D., co-director of the Division of Neonatology, have led nationwide studies on ventilator care, antenatal steroids, chronic lung disease and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

A study in the NICHD NRN published in the NEJM reported that neonatal mortality has been decreased over the last 10 years, including decreases in almost all specific causes of neonatal mortality, because of improvements in care implemented in the NRN centers. A second paper showed that improvements in perinatal care, including obstetrical and neonatal interventions, are increasing survival rates substantially in the most premature babies. Survival rates are substantially increasing among those delivered at a gestational age of 20 weeks to 25 weeks and six days.

NICHD Global Network (GN) for Women’s and Children’s Health Research

UAB has participated in the NICHD GN for more than 13 years. The most recent research grant exceeding $700,000 per year renews a partnership to help improve maternal and infant health outcomes and build health research capacity in resourcepoor settings for testing cost-effective, sustainable interventions.

UAB investigators developed and led the testing of innovative interventions that reduced childhood mortality and neurodevelopmental disabilities through grants received from the NICHD GN. The resuscitation program developed and found effective by UAB investigators has been introduced in more than 75 countries to save babies’ lives at birth, with the potential to reduce infant deaths soon after birth by 1 million.