UAB study on chorioamnionitis directly harming the brains of preterm infants receives NIH funding for further exploration

The follow-up study will take a bench-to-bedside approach
Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Hannah Echols

Inside JianViral Jain, M.D.
Photography: Lexi Coon
The University of Alabama at Birmingham received funding from the National Institutes of Health to explore long-term adverse outcomes of chorioamnionitis for lung and brain development in both human preterm infants and animal models.

“Preterm birth rate is among the highest in Alabama,” said Viral G. Jain, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Neonatology in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine and principle investigator on the study. “Notably, more than 40 percent to 80 percent of the prematurity is triggered by chorioamnionitis and disproportionally affects Black women.”

Through the NIH Mentored Career Development KL2 Program in Clinical and Translational Science, funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, researchers will investigate the link between chorioamnionitis, a serious inflammation of the placenta that occurs during pregnancy, and subsequent development of bronchopulmonary dysplasia in preterm infants. BPD is a chronic lung disease that affects newborns, most often those who are born prematurely.

The new study follows Jain’s previous study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that focused on the effect of chorioamnionitis on the brains of preterm infants. Prior to the study, many argued that any adverse effects on brain development associated with chorioamnionitis were the result of premature birth itself. Results published in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology challenged the argument by demonstrating that, though 50 percent of brain abnormalities resulted indirectly from premature birth, the remaining 50 percent were a result of a direct effect of chorioamnionitis.

“Our findings suggest that chorioamnionitis has a direct adverse effect on brain development. The new study will focus on the effects of the disease on premature infants’ lungs,” Jain said. “Both studies have future implications, such as the potential to influence obstetricians to identify and treat chorioamnionitis sooner to prevent its many downstream adverse effects.”