Overview

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.

The University of Pennsylvania research team includes over 40 faculty-level investigators, trainees, and staff and is led by its principal investigator Deborah Driscoll, M.D., and project leaders Rebecca Simmons, M.D., Michal Elovitz, M.D., and Dr. Samuel Parry, M.D. Three key research themes are being pursued via transdisciplinary interactions that will generate new research hypotheses and strategies to prevent preterm birth.

Program Directors

Deborah Driscoll, M.D., is the Luigi Mastroianni, Jr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Director of the Center for Research on Reproduction and Women’s Health. Dr. Driscoll, an obstetrician-geneticist, is internationally recognized for her research on DiGeorge/velocardiofacial syndrome and the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, genetic screening and the care of women with genetic disorders. Dr. Driscoll was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2010. She is the principle investigator of the NICHD Women’s Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) career development program at Penn. She served on the Board of Directors of the American College of Medical Genetics and was chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Genetics. Currently, Dr. Driscoll serves on the March of Dimes Scientific Advisory Committee on Prematurity and the Public Policy Advisory Committee and is the President of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Council of University Chairs in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Rebecca A Simmons, M.D., is the Hallam Hurt Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is on faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and an attending Neonatologist at Children's Hospital Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. For the past 25 years, Dr. Simmons’ research has focused on determining the underlying molecular mechanisms that link an abnormal intrauterine milieu to the later development of diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cognitive defects and cerebral palsy after birth. Using different animal models, Dr. Simmons is elucidating the role of epigenetic mechanisms (DNA methylation, histone modifications, non-coding RNAs) in the development of an abnormal phenotype in the offspring. Using next generation sequencing, she is also assessing how obesity impacts the epigenome and the transcriptome of the oocyte and early embryo. The NIH and the American Diabetes Association have continuously funded Dr. Simmons’ research for over 25 years. She has been the recipient of multiple awards and has served on NIH and ADA study sections as well as editorial boards of several journals.

Michal Elovitz, M.D., is Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, the Director of the Maternal and Child Health Research Program and the Director of the Maternal and Fetal Medicine Fellowship Training Program. For the last 14 years, Dr. Elovitz has been at the forefront of preterm birth research. Her development of mouse models to study the mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of preterm birth are used internationally to further the field. Dr. Elovitz’s research on the role of the cervix, cervical remodeling and host immune-microbiome interactions as key steps in preterm birth represent a new paradigm and are the focus of her work for the March of Dimes Transdisciplinary Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She serves as Project Leader and Director of the animal and clinical cores for the Center. Dr. Elovitz is also the lead investigator for several other studies that explore the mechanisms and consequences of preterm birth, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute for Nursing Research (NINR), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). She is a past recipient of grants from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the March of Dimes Prematurity Initiative. She has over 80 peer reviewed research publications and has successfully mentored many fellows and postdoctoral candidates. She is highly regarded for her expertise and serves as a grant reviewer for the National Institute of Health and the March of Dimes Translational Awards.

Samuel Parry, M.D., is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and is the Chief of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Division in the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Dr. Parry has spent the past 15 years studying genetic and environmental causes of preterm birth. He is the principal investigator at Penn for the NICHD Genomic and Proteomic Network for Preterm Birth Research (Analytical Core), the NICHD Network to Study Preterm Birth in Nulliparous Women (nuMOM2b), and the NHLBI Heart Health Study (Pregnancy as a Window to Future Cardiovascular Health). The NIH has funded Dr. Parry continuously since 2004, and he has utilized various placenta models to study the impact of viral and bacterial infections on placental function and adverse pregnancy outcomes, particularly spontaneous preterm birth. His research efforts have yielded more than 70 peer reviewed publications. Dr. Parry is an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and an Examiner for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oral Boards, MFM Subspecialty Examinations. He is a Fellow in the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society. Dr. Parry is widely recognized for his expertise in placental biology and preterm birth research, and he serves a member of the NICHD’s Obstetrics and Maternal-Fetal Biology Subcommittee and the SMFM Pregnancy Foundation/AAOGF Scholarly Committee.

University of Pennsylvania Administrators, Directors and Co-Investigators

Administration

Deborah A. Driscoll, M.D. Luigi Mastroianni Professor, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Michal Elovitz, M.D. Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Director of the Maternal Child Health Research Program, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellowship, Director of the Prematurity Prevention Program, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Rebecca A. Simmons, M.D. Hallam Hurt Professor in Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Samuel Parry, M.D. Professor, Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Megan Helfrick, M.S.W. Grants administrator, Center for Research on Reproduction & Women's Health, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Rita Leite, M.D. Project Manager, Center for Research on Reproduction & Women's Health, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Co-Investigators—Research Theme 1

Marisa Bartolomei, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Michael Bennett, Ph.D. Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Director of Metabolic Disease Laboratory, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Ian Blair, Ph.D. A. N. Richards Professor of Pharmacology, Vice-Chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Director of the Center for Cancer Pharmacology, Director of the Proteomics and Systems Biology Facility, Director of Translational Biomarker Core at the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, Department of Pharmacology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Marni Falk, M.D. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
J Kevin Foskett, Ph.D. Isaac Ott Professor of Physiology, Chair of the Department of Physiology, Department of Physiology Perelman School of Medicine (primary), University of Pennsylvania and Department of Cell and Developmental Biology (secondary), and the University of Pennsylvania
Brett Kaufman, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry, Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Pennsylvania
Eric Rappaport, Ph.D. Scientific Director of NAPCORE, Co-Director of BGI@CHOP High-throughout Sequencing Facility, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Rebecca A. Simmons, M.D. Hallam Hurt Professor in Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Neal Sondheimer, M.D., Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Associate Program Director—Medical Genetics Residency, Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Sarah Tishkoff, Ph.D. Professor, Departments of Genetics and Biology, University of Pennsylvania
Ben Voight, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Pharmacology & Genetics, Departments of Pharmacology (primary) and Genetics (secondary), University of Pennsylvania

Co-Investigators—Research Theme 2

Charlene Compher, Ph.D. Professor of Nutrition Science, Senior Fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives, Department of Nutrition Science, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Joint appointment, Department of Surgery, Perelman School of Medicine
Michal Elovitz, M.D. Associate Professor, Director of the Maternal and Child Health Research Program, Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellowship, Director of the Prematurity Prevention Program, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
George Gallos, M.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
John Hogenesch, Ph.D. Professor, Interim Director of the Penn Center for Bioinformatics, Department of Pharmacology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Kristin Myers, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Columbia University
Hy Simhan, M.D. Associate Professor, Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Louis Soslowsky, Ph.D. Fairhill Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor of Bioengineering, Vice Chair for Research of Orthopaedic Surgery, Founding Director of the Penn Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders, Director of McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Department of Orthopedic Surgery Perelman School of Medicine (primary), University of Pennsylvania Department of Bioengineering (secondary), University of Pennsylvania
Joy-Sarah Vink, M.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Ronald Wapner, M.D. Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vice Chair of Research and Director of Reproductive Genetics, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Co-Investigators—Research Theme 3

Rick Bushman, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania
Christos Coutifaris, M.D., Ph.D. Nancy and Richard Wolfson Professor, Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Dongeun Huh, Ph.D. Wilf Family Term Chair and Assistant Professor, Chair of the Department of Bioengineering, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania
Arun Jeyabalan, M.D., M.S.C.R. Associate Professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Magee Women's Research Institute/Department of Environmental and Occupational Health University of Pittsburgh
Valerian Kagan, Ph.D. Professor, Vice-Chairman of the Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Pittsburgh
Monica Mainigi, M.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Samuel Parry, M.D. Associate Professor, Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Yoel Sadovsky, M.D. Professor of OBGYN and Reproductive Sciences, Director of the Magee-Womens Research Institute, Magee Women's Research Institute/University of Pittsburgh
Vladimir Tyurin, Ph.D. Research Assistant Professor, Magee Women's Research Institute/Department of Environmental and Occupational Health University of Pittsburgh
Gary Wu, M.D. Ferdinand Weisbrod Professor of Medicine, Associate Chief for Research of the Division of Gastroenterology, Director of Molecular Biology Core Facility, and Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Disease, Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Internal Advisory Committee

Marisa Bartolomei, Ph.D. Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Phyllis Dennery, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Chief of the Division of Neonatology and Newborn Services at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Michal Elovitz, M.D. Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Director of the Maternal Child Health Research Program, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellowship, Director of the Prematurity Prevention Program, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Joseph St. Geme, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Physician-in-Chief at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Louis Soslowsky, Ph.D. Fairhill Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor of Bioengineering, Vice Chair for Research of Orthopaedic Surgery, Founding Director of the Penn Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders, Director of McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Department of Orthopedic Surgery Perelman School of Medicine (primary), University of Pennsylvania Department of Bioengineering (secondary), University of Pennsylvania
Gary Wu, M.D. Ferdinand Weisbrod Professor of Medicine, Associate Chief for Research of the Division of Gastroenterology, Director of Molecular Biology Core Facility, and Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Disease, Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Marc Yudkoff, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Chief of the Division of Child Development, Rehabilitation and Metabolic Disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia