In June of 2015, the March of Dimes joined with the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Duke to launch the fifth prematurity research center aimed exclusively at finding the unknown causes of premature birth. This demonstrates the commitment and enthusiasm of accomplished directors, investigators and faculty as they come together in this transdisciplinary and cross-institutional effort to solve the mysteries of premature birth. This team will collaborate with the other four centers as they pursue the challenging questions of what causes premature birth, and specifically address five interrelated transdisciplinary research themes around gene regulation.

A Unique Transdisciplinary Approach

The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center UChicago-Northwestern-Duke will bring together a wide array of disciplines, specialties and research themes to examine biological and genetic factors that might contribute to prematurity.

An Evolution Toward Team Science

The basic premise of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center UChicago-Northwestern-Duke is that the causes of premature birth involve highly interactive biologic and genetic factors that will not be uncovered by singular studies from isolated disciplines. Rather, the guiding premise is based on a commitment to craft investigational collaborations, integrated data sets, and innovative analytic tools that will generate new insights into the complex causes of premature birth. Our virtual transdisciplinary and transinstitutional center assembles scientists from diverse fields to share knowledge and integrate data systems to broaden one another’s perspectives and craft a rich analytic framework to understand what has until now remained a mystery.

Transdisciplinary research addresses a single topic from many perspectives while creating shared knowledge, new methods that reveal new insights, and new syntheses aimed at solving a real world problem. For example, one area of study, regulatory systems across reproductive tissues, involves expertise in genomics, epigenetics and maternal-fetal medicine.  Similar transdisciplinary teams of experts in genomics, statistical genetics and reproductive biology have been assembled to study the role of regulatory variation and networks in premature birth.  A third theme focuses on novel cell models of pregnancy and involves a community of stem cell and molecular biologists, growth factor biologists, and even applications of nanotechnology to medicine.

Building a community from these types of disparate relationships will move the research from local collaborations and partial intellectual discussions to more global collaborations and increasingly broad and deep intellectual integration. This new transdisciplinary approach will create a new intellectual community focused on an identifiable topic by sharing methodological approaches and understandings. 

March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center UChicago-Northwestern-Duke is developing the infrastructure and foundational elements of transdisciplinary research as a means of accelerating the answers to complex medical problems impacting premature birth that couldn’t be found by using more traditional forms of research.