Meharry researcher helps find hope in reducing pre-term births

Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 12:25am

The scientific director of the Meharry Center for Women’s Health Research in Nashville and a team of University of Texas researchers have concluded that inhibiting the activity of an enzyme during pregnancy can reduce the incidence of pre-term births in rats.

Also, the enzyme, catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), appears to stop the cervix from expanding and stretching, the research showed.

These findings were reported in a recent issue of the specialized journal Reproduction.

“These are important findings, because this study also provides for the first-time a urinary biomarker that may potentially help us predict whether a pregnant woman is at risk for pre-term labor or not,” said Dr. Ayman Al-Hendy, who is a professor and vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Meharry Medical College.

Pre-term labor occurs when a pregnant woman delivers at fewer than 37 weeks. The incidence of pre-term births has risen in the last 10 years, from 10 percent to 13 percent, according to Al-Hendy, and more than 1 million pre-term births occur annually, placing a financial impact on the healthcare system between $7 and 8 billion dollars a year.

“Historically, there has not been an effective way to predict pre-term labor and providing effective treatment once it occurs has been even more challenging,” said Al-Hendy.

Pre-term labor is also a health disparities issue. According to Al-Hendy, African-American women are 3-4 times more likely to suffer from the condition.

Prevention of human pre-term labor is still years away, however, Al-Hendy said he and his team are encouraged by the findings from this study — the results of which may prompt researchers to initiate clinical trials in humans.

In addition to Al-Hendy, co-authors of the study include the following: Melissa J. Wentz, Shao-Qing Shi, Leili Shi, Salama A. Salama, Hassan M. Harirah, Hala Fouad, Robert E. Garfield, department of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Texas Medical Branch.

Meharry Medical College is the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health center dedicated solely to educating minority and other health professionals.

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