New Chicago center to study role of race, poverty in premature births

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A nurse feeds Ava Miles, in the neonatal intensive-care unit at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. Studying how discrimination and poverty might alter gene regulation and lead to premature births will be a major focus of the new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center. Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Studying how discrimination and poverty might alter gene regulation and lead to premature births will be a major focus of a new research center in Chicago.

Bringing together scientists from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Duke University, the new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at U. of C. will aim to identify gene functions responsible for ensuring that a pregnancy continues to full term. The researchers also will study how prolonged stress affects those functions.

Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. Preterm birth rates have declined, but racial gaps remain. Among black women, the rate of preterm birth is 16.5 percent, versus 10.3 percent among white women.

Some of the disparity might be the result of social disadvantages that cause the release of stress hormones and set the stage for disease, researchers have shown.

“We’ll be paying particular attention to racial and socioeconomic groups that have elevated prematurity rates,” says U. of C.’s Carole Ober, who’s heading the effort. “We think that stress may directly affect gene regulation and manifest itself in biology. While the genes themselves do not change, those genes may be turned up or down with the stress of discrimination or poverty.”

The Chicago center is the fifth in the nation devoted to prematurity research supported by the March of Dimes.

AP

Study: Poor areas have more on dialysis, disparity grows

Adults starting on kidney dialysis are more likely than the general population to live in poverty-stricken areas, and that disparity is growing, Loyola University researchers have found.

More than 27 percent of those starting on dialysis from 1995 to 2004 lived in a ZIP code where at least a fifth of the population was below the poverty line, researchers led by Dr. Holly Kramer, a kidney specialist, reported in the journal Hemodialysis International. The figure among the general population was just under 11 percent.

Relying on Medicare and Medicaid data, the researchers also looked at 2005 to 2010, finding 34 percent of those starting on dialysis lived in high-poverty areas versus 12.5 percent among the general population.

They wrote that possible reasons for the link between end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis and living in low-income ZIP codes might include limited access to health care, lifestyle factors and exposure to environmental toxins more likely in poor areas.

Staff report

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