The GPN, funded through the NICHD’s Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB), was established in 2005 to concentrate on the most common form of preterm birth—spontaneous preterm delivery following the premature onset of labor—at a stage of pregnancy associated with the highest mortality and morbidity rates for the infant, that is, at less than 34 weeks of gestational age.
The goal of the GPN is to study the genetic and environmental causes and mechanisms of spontaneous preterm birth to understand why and how a mother’s body goes into labor prematurely. Using state-of-the-art genome-wide association studies and protein profiling, the GPN aims to identify new biomarkers that increase the risk of a preterm delivery and to find molecular mechanisms responsible for a preterm birth.
Understanding these mechanisms could enable researchers to better predict spontaneous preterm birth, design more effective strategies to prevent that event, and develop more effective treatment strategies for the event if it occurs.
Following publication of results from the GPN, the genomic and proteomic data will be placed in anonymized databases for data mining by the research community. Any remaining samples will become available to the research community for further research into preterm birth.
The GPN has completed recruitment into three studies:
- Case-control study. This genome-wide association study recruited 1,021 cases of spontaneous preterm birth at less than 34 weeks of gestation and 1,004 term controls (39 to 41 weeks). DNA samples were collected from both the mothers and infants and will be analyzed to see if any genes from either the mother or her infant (or a combination of the two) show up more often in those that had spontaneous preterm labor than in those with regular term labor.
- Longitudinal study. This proteomics biomarker study recruited 518 high-risk women (those with previous spontaneous preterm births) during the course of their pregnancy. DNA and RNA samples were obtained from the mothers at different times during their pregnancies to see whether proteins in their blood change over time and if any specific proteins either increase or decrease prior to spontaneous preterm delivery. Such proteins might help predict which mothers are more likely to deliver prematurely or how close they are to delivering.
- Expression profiling study. This transcriptomics study, which recruited 122 mothers, looked for which genes or DNA the body uses—that is, expresses or transcribes into RNA—during pregnancy in the mother’s uterus, fetal membranes, and cervix. Tissue samples were collected during cesarean sections for cases at less than 35 weeks of gestation and for term controls. This study may show where genes that are more frequently associated with preterm birth are used in the pregnant mother’s body.
GPN has completed recruitment in these studies, and it is now conducting specimen and data analyses.
- Clinical Centers (responsible for subject recruitment and specimen collection)
- University of Alabama at Birmingham
- University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
- University of Utah
- Analytical Core (responsible for genomic and proteomic analyses of the specimens)
- University of Pennsylvania
- Data Coordinating Center (responsible for central data collection and data analysis)