UC Irvine Healthcare is recruiting pregnant women to participate in a research study on the reasons for premature birth.

“It’s critical to examine the causes of preterm birth in women who have never carried a pregnancy to term,” says Dr. Deborah A. Wing, professor and director of maternal-fetal medicine in UC Irvine’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. “They account for about 40 percent of pregnancies each year, and – since there’s no information from a previous birth – we need to find ways to predict a pregnancy’s outcome and, when necessary, intervene.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the incidence of preterm birth has increased by about 20 percent since the mid-1980s and now affects one in eight pregnant American women. Nearly half a million babies are born prematurely each year. Complications related to prematurity are the leading cause of infant mortality within the first month of life. Despite advances in lifesaving technology and the expansion of neonatal intensive care units, infant mortality in the U.S. is still among the highest in industrialized countries.

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study will monitor 10,000 mothers-to-be at eight academic centers across the country. (“Nulliparous” is the clinical term for those who have not previously given birth.) UC Irvine’s recruitment of about 1,200 women due before December 2011 is under way. Study subjects must consent to interviews and questionnaires, the collection of biological samples and measurements, and ultrasound exams.

To participate or determine qualifications, contact Beverly Ann Nathan, R.N., B.S.N., or Tamara House, R.N., at 714-456-6772.

The effort is part of UC Irvine’s goal to reduce preterm birth. Increased knowledge about its causes through projects like this and the national fetal growth study could help prevent prematurity and save babies’ lives. Caring for preterm infants is also one of the leading contributors to skyrocketing healthcare costs in the U.S. Decreasing the incidence of preterm birth could drive down the billions of dollars now spent on neonatal intensive care.

About UC Irvine Medical Center: Orange County’s only university hospital, UC Irvine Medical Center offers acute- and general-care services at its new, 482,000-square-foot UC Irvine Douglas Hospital and is home to the county’s only Level I trauma center, American College of Surgeons-verified regional burn center and National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. U.S. News & World Report has included UC Irvine for 10 consecutive years on its list of America’s Best Hospitals, giving special recognition to its urology, gynecology, and ear, nose & throat programs.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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