Calgary researchers target premature births with massive study – Calgary Sun

May 7, 2021

Bill Kaufmann /May 05, 2021 Source: Calgary Herald

For unknown reasons, nine per cent of births in Alberta are premature, a rate among the highest in the country.

More than a year after her daughter Gianna arrived four months prematurely, the effects of that early birth are still sinking in, said Molly Wilding.

“We don’t know the full effects of her premature birth,” said Wilding, 28.

Gianna, who was born weighing one pound six ounces and spent 149 days in a neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) at the Foothills Medical Centre, has suffered brain bleeds, requires a speech therapist and needed extra oxygen for three months after leaving hospital.

“She’s making progress but she’s had a tough go,” said Wilding.

Leading up to the birth on Jan. 7, 2020, the woman said she had no warning signs or risk factors that would suggest her daughter would be arriving dangerously early.

Those kinds of challenges and uncertainties have prompted an unprecedented Calgary-based study on how to better diagnose, reduce and treat premature births in a city and province with a higher rate of them.

For unknown reasons, nine per cent of births in Alberta are premature, a rate among the highest in the country.

Of the more than 17,250 babies born last year in Calgary, about 1,550 were preterm, with more than 1,200 of those requiring intensive care.

“What’s of concern is that higher risk and complications that occur — impacted brain development and physical inability and, sadly, death,” said Dr. Donna Slater, who’s leading the study.

“We’re trying to identify some key factors that can predict which women are at risk.”

Over the next four years, the effort backed by $5 million in donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Calgary Health Foundations will seek to recruit 4,000 expectant mothers in the Calgary area to take part in the study — the largest of its kind in Canada.

Those mothers will be monitored during their pregnancies and for up to a year after birth in a study conducted by more than 40 scientists and clinical researchers.

Its initial phase will examine how blood samples can supply clues to greater likelihood of early birth.

“There’s a signature in the blood that something isn’t quite right, it’s a pattern that’s predictive of risk of premature delivery,” said obstetrics-gynecologist Slater.

“That gives clinicians a chance to intervene if we can identify it at, say, 20 weeks.”

The study might also reveal why Alberta has such a high rate of premature births, she said.

“Maybe we can also identify new treatments — that’s longer term but feasible,” said Slater.

Better understanding the mechanisms of early birth would not only reduce the effects on babies and families, she said, but relieve the stress on health-care systems.

Health-care costs related to premature births in Canada is estimated at nearly $600 million a year.

“If we can save a few weeks in ICU, it’ll improve not only the baby’s health but the (fiscal) bottom line,” she said.

“We’re also very keen in involving partners and fathers who can affect certain outcomes.”

Though she can’t be part of the study because she’s already given birth, Wilding said she’d gladly participate if she could.

“If it can help any woman find out her risk factors and prevent her from going through our NICU journey, that’d be great,” she said.

“It can happen to anybody.”

The research is part of the Calgary Health Foundation’s $152-million Newborns Need campaign that’s furthering maternal and newborn care in southern Alberta.

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

Source: Calgary Herald