Leading Discovery: Life, Medical & Health Science

Saving Lives, One Test at a Time

“The rate of infant mortality in Detroit has been unacceptably high for too long,”
– Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

The loss of a child is devastating and the leading cause of infant death is premature birth. According to the March of Dimes, Michigan’s preterm birth rate in 2015 was 9.9 percent, exceeding the national average of 9.6 percent. The rate of preterm birth in Detroit was even higher, but now groundbreaking research at Wayne State University (WSU) has the potential to dramatically decrease the number of preterm births, saving lives and reducing complications.

Focusing on factors that contribute to infant mortality, such as premature birth, WSU researchers recently developed a simple and cost effective technique based on research showing preterm births are more frequent among women with a short cervix. This research was conducted by the Perinatology Research Branch (PRB) of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (NICHD/ NIH) located at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Detroit Medical Center in one of the few NIH research facilities located outside Bethesda, MD.

Dr. Sonia Hassan with images of healthy babies she has delivered through her work at the WSU Perinatology Research Branch

Screening pregnant women with a simple ultrasound test and treating those who are at risk for preterm delivery with an inexpensive and noninvasive hormone gel can reduce the chance of early delivery in these women by nearly half. Requiring no new procedures, nor long-term drug development trials, the two-step process has been implemented since its discovery for immediate and lasting impact.

The findings come from collaborative research work at over 40 medical centers worldwide, led by Roberto Romero, M.D., chief of the PRB and principal investigator on behalf of NICHD/NIH. WSU served as the lead center in the trial, under the direction of Sonia Hassan, M.D., associate dean for Maternal, Perinatal and Child Health.

As a result of this work, Michigan’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan of 2012 and 2016 included universal cervical screening and vaginal progesterone therapy for women as a strategy for lowering the risk of preterm birth. Screening is part of the Make Your DateTM Detroit program, an initiative started at Wayne State University by Dr. Hassan and supported by a coalition of civic leaders and medical experts working to help expectant mothers in Detroit deliver healthy, full-term babies.

A leading partner of the initiative, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said, “The Make Your Date program is doing greatwork helping expectant mothers bring their babies to fullterm and giving them the best chance possible at a healthy start to life.”

Since its start in 2014, Make Your DateTM Detroit has made a positive difference in the lives of mothers and babies, reducing premature birth by implementing evidence-based strategies through education, collaboration and partnerships with health care systems, universities and other established programs in the Detroit area. Efforts to implement the two-step screening and treatment process, key elements of the initiative, continue across the state.