An important discovery related to preterm births was made by Louis Ragolia, PhD, director of biomedical research at NYU Winthrop Hospital—and that discovery may hold the keys to predicting preterm births. Preterm births occur in approximately half a million pregnancies in the U.S. each year—15 million worldwide—and are a leading cause of newborn deaths. Dr. Ragolia’s discovery, which NYU Winthrop has patented in the U.S. and Europe, involves a “biomarker” for predicting preterm births—a biomarker meaning that it involves a substance that can be measured and that predicts an outcome. Developing a biomarker test that can identify the risk of preterm birth could improve the health management of these pregnancies. Such an advancement may also lead to further discoveries that help physicians better understand and prevent preterm births.
“NYU Winthrop’s biomarker represents a potential breakthrough in predicting preterm births, which may save lives and decrease the rate of life-threatening neurological issues in preterm infants,” said Dr. Ragolia.
Specifically, Dr. Ragolia’s discovery involves a gene that produces an enzyme in pregnant women. The enzyme is responsible for the synthesis of a lipid called “prostaglandin D2,” a hormone-like product that contributes to early contractions and preterm labor. Further work by Dr. Ragolia led to the full characterization of the enzyme and its clinical effects relative to the risk of early delivery and preterm birth.
On the heels of that discovery, NYU Winthrop has formed a collaborative research and development initiative with Progenity, Inc., a biotechnology company that is providing expertise to harness the full capabilities of this important discovery. NYU Winthrop granted Progenity an exclusive license to its patents, and the two organizations are collaborating on discovery studies to identify additional preterm birth markers.
“Combining the diagnostic test development expertise of Progenity with NYU Winthrop’s leading clinical center and state-of-the-art research facility strongly positions this partnership for success,” said Matthew Cooper, PhD, chief scientific officer at Progenity. “Progenity is continually striving to make healthcare more precise with new technologies supplying previously unavailable evidence informing critical care pathways. Novel tests for these prenatal conditions could reduce complications and provide better outcomes for mother and child.”
“Conditions like preterm labor and births are major contributors to morbidity and mortality for both the mother and newborn,” added Martin Chavez, MD, chief of the Division of Maternal–Fetal Medicine and Fetal Surgery at NYU Winthrop Hospital. “The successful development of this test could enable us to proactively manage and screen for the risk of preterm delivery rather than being reactionary. No one test should be used in isolation, but this biomarker panel for preterm birth could be a powerful tool.”