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Researchers want to pinpoint racial disparity in preterm births

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ATLANTA, Ga. – Jasmine and Justin Hoffman were thrilled when they learned they were starting a family. Then floored when they found out jasmine was expecting times two.

"We do have twins that run on both sides of our family but of course, you never think it's going to happen to you," said Jasmine.

Jasmine was determined to have healthy babies and did everything by the book. But by 20 weeks, jasmine's blood pressure started to skyrocket. 

"By the time I got to 30 weeks, essentially there was protein in my urine which basically meant that my kidneys were not doing their job," she said.

Two weeks later, she delivered Preston and Grant eight weeks early. 

Anne Dunlop, MD, MPH, Associate Professor at Emory School of Nursing is an expert in preterm birth disparities. She says some risk factors are well-known: early or late age at first pregnancies, short intervals between pregnancies, smoking, hypertension and infection. Education efforts haven't helped much.

"It hasn't really shifted rates of preterm birth, nor has it closed the gap in rates of preterm birth," Dunlop said.

Instead, Dunlop is looking to see if a combination of behavioral and environmental factors could affect a mother's genes.

"We're starting to understand that the microbiome, or those bacterial or microorganisms that live on or in the human body, may be playing an important role," Dunlop said.

The Hoffman's not only have a family history of twins, but also of preterm birth.

Jasmine said, "I was a late preterm baby and I was born at 36 weeks. It is something that our family has struggled with."

Something she hopes won't be an issue for the next generation.

Dunlop and her team have begun a five year study to examine prenatal stress, diet and a woman's microbiome on birth outcomes. She says once researchers identify causes, they can suggest modifications to improve the preterm birth rates.