Mary Regan, PhD, RN, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Baltimore, is using a $1.8 million research grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to investigate factors consistent with premature birth. Along with Jacques Ravel, PhD, professor in the university's Institute for Genomic Science, Regan will examine the effect of diet on vaginal microbiota and preterm birth.
The two researchers, in collaboration with others from the school of nursing and the National Institute of Nursing Research, will study 400 pregnant women from Baltimore City neighborhoods, which have higher-than-average preterm birth rates. The causes of preterm birth are not well understood but are thought to originate from biological or social factors such as eating habits, personal health behaviors, prenatal care and socioeconomic status.
Recent studies have shown that the type of microorganisms, including bacteria, found in the vagina have been associated with preterm birth. However, research also shows that the composition, frequency and duration of abnormalities in the types of vaginal microorganisms may be affected by the same biological and demographic factors that are known predictors of preterm birth.
From week 20 of their pregnancies through birth, study participants will submit vaginal swabs and report diet, vaginal and prenatal health behaviors on a weekly basis to researchers.
"Preterm birth is highest among African-American and Hispanic women and is strongly associated with low-socio economic status," said Regan. "Baltimore is an excellent environment in which to conduct this study because it provides us unique access to those groups.