In November of 2014, the March of Dimes joined with the University of Pennsylvania and other leading hospitals to launch the fourth transdisciplinary research center aimed exclusively at finding what causes preterm birth. The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates the commitment and enthusiasm of a team of accomplished investigators and faculty as they come together in this transdisciplinary and cross-institutional effort to solve the mysteries of preterm birth.

  • Jessica Farber
  • Mom and nurse at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Prematurity doesn't play favorites. Even healthcare professionals can be surprised at the arrival of a preterm baby, as Jessica Farber, a nurse practitioner at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and her husband, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, found. "With our first baby, Hannah, who I delivered 11 weeks early, there was no indication of prematurity. It was unexpected and shocking,” Jessica said.

Prematurity has the potential to impact the child for life. It can affect their lung development, causing prolonged respiratory problems. Cognitive development may occur more slowly, affecting their ability to learn and their school performance. That’s why the most difficult thing for the baby’s parents is the unknown.

“There were so many times when they said to me about Hannah, ‘we’ll just have to see what her outcome is,’” Jessica said. “Most people think prematurity ends in the NICU. But that’s just the beginning.”

Hannah is now in 2nd grade. She’s happy, bright and healthy. But when one baby is born preterm, it’s likely the next one will be, too. So when Jessica became pregnant a second time, she entered a preterm prevention program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), located in the University City section of West Philadelphia. Even though it was comforting to know she was doing everything she could, preventing preterm birth still remains elusive and often unsuccessful. Their son Nathan was born this past September 10 weeks early. He is also doing well.

“I have a much greater understanding of the impacts of prematurity now. It’s life changing. That’s why the possibility of finding a solution is so exciting,” Jessica said. “The researchers at Penn are taking a very comprehensive, systematic approach. If we’re going to find a way to end prematurity, that’s the way to do it.

“As a medical professional, I know it will happen,” she continued. “But not without an incredible amount of funding. That’s why the March of Dimes is so vital. It has championed a highly innovative approach to reducing prematurity by encouraging researchers and leading thinkers from multiple disciplines to work together to solve complex problems. It’s wonderful and I believe it will make a huge difference in our ability to understand and prevent preterm birth over the next few years.”