It may be possible to lower the high risk of preterm birth among African American women with certain immune and bacterial factors in the microbiome of the cervix and vagina that appear to modulate this risk, according to new research published in Nature Communications. March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit for the health of moms and babies, sponsored research at their Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine that helped lay the foundation for these recently reported findings.
“If this study is confirmed, it could mean that supplementing with combined immune and bacterial factors could help overcome the disturbing racial disparities in preterm birth, in which African American moms and babies bear a greater burden,” says Kelle H. Moley, MD, Chief Scientific Officer at March of Dimes. “We’re hopeful that this method of diagnosing and moderating the microbiome to create a protective effect may become a new treatment for African American women in the immediate future.”
March of Dimes’ comments came in response to the new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland School of Medicine that found seven types of bacteria and certain immune factors in a woman’s vagina and cervix may be responsible for increasing the risk of spontaneous preterm birth or protect against it. The authors suggest this information could help physicians better predict preterm birth, especially for African-American women early in pregnancy.
Today’s publication follows on other mechanistic studies on the vaginal microbiome and preterm birth conducted at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, where lead author Michal Elovitz, MD, a professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Penn Medicine, is also a co-investigator.
“March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit for the health of moms and babies, is pleased to support the work of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at University of Pennsylvania, including sponsoring research that helped lay the groundwork for these latest findings,” Dr. Moley said.
The presence or absence of certain bacteria in a woman’s cervix and vagina microbiome – the community of organisms such as bacteria and viruses that normally inhabit the body – are known to affect the risk of preterm birth. Some bacteria are associated with the significantly higher preterm birth rate among African American women in the United States.
The rate of preterm birth (defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy) among black women in the United States is 49 percent higher than the rate among all other women. More than 20 percent of premature babies are born to black women — that’s 1 in 5 U.S. babies. Preterm birth and its complications are the largest contributor to death in the first year of life in the United States, and the leading cause of death of children under age 5 worldwide.
“Cervicovaginal microbiota and local immune response modulate the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery” by Michal A. Elovitz, Jacques Ravel, et al. appeared in the March 21 issue of Nature Communications. The study was supported by the National Institute for Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health.
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.