Arlington, VA, June 14, 2023 — March of Dimes today announced a new step in growing its extensive body of maternal care research with an expanded focus on Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL). This research focus will take a deeper look and provide fresh insights on RPL as it relates to environmental factors, and is fueled by a generous donation toward research at the organization by Dana and Shannon Martin, a young couple that has experienced RPL.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 50% of RPL instances remain unexplained. While most miscarriage is a result of chromosomally abnormal, or imbalanced, embryos there is a considerable number of women who continue to miscarry despite having normal embryos and an absence of any identifiable reproductive issues, highlighting a deep need to better understand all potential factors at play. To do this, March of Dimes will leverage expertise within two of its Prematurity Research Centers (PRCs) – University of California San Francisco and Imperial College London.
In this highly-focused scientific effort, March of Dimes researchers will perform key foundational work to gather new insights into RPL through the lens of environmental factors that include pollutants found in air, food and water – but also factors and elements found in pharmaceutical and medical products, and influences from the social environment women encounter. The UCSF team is led by Dr. Aleksandar Rajkovic and Dr. Marina Sirota, while the Imperial College team is led by Prof. David MacIntyre and Prof. Phillip Bennett.
“Recurrent miscarriage, especially when unexplained, is both emotionally and mentally devastating to those who experience it,” said March of Dimes Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Emre Seli. “We will use every tool at our disposal – from clinical studies with patients to sophisticated data mining and computational analysis techniques – to unravel the mysteries behind this diagnosis. As with all science that awaits the moment a researcher makes a breakthrough and cracks open a holy grail of critical information, this focused inquiry into the causes of RPL has the added potential to unlock answers about preterm birth, stillbirth and healthy pregnancy.”
The RPL research will follow two avenues. On one path, researchers in the PRC at UCSF will apply machine learning to mine Electronic Medical Record (EMR) databases across the state of California and beyond in search of links between RPL clinical diagnoses and possible environmental risk factors. This will then set the foundation for the establishment of a predictive model for RPL that could identify women at risk and correlate their findings with genetic parameters.
At the same time, researchers in the PRC at Imperial College London will use metabolic profiling to investigate whether women who experienced miscarriage carry higher levels of metabolites (substances resulting from the breakdown of food, drugs or chemicals) related to toxin exposure in their bodily fluids. Researchers hope to determine whether exposome profiles (an individual’s exposure to environmental factors like pollution) can be used to predict women at risk of early and/or recurrent pregnancy loss.
Work is currently underway at UCSF and Imperial. Together, these groups plan to use their findings to build a library of compounds, conditions, and chemicals that may be associated with RPL.
This new research effort was made possible through a donation from Dana and Shannon Martin, who have experienced more than half a dozen losses – including several while they lived in a home with high carbon monoxide exposure levels. Strong supporters of scientific research and entrepreneurship, the Martins sit on the March of Dimes Innovation Fund Investment Committee, where they provide guidance about startups in which the Fund may invest.
“March of Dimes’ new focus on Recurrent Pregnancy Loss is very personal to us, and we are incredibly hopeful we can move the needle with this research,” said Shannon Martin. “Every day, we feel optimistic that March of Dimes can provide not just answers, but solutions, to families like ours.”
About March of Dimes
March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every family can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 85-year legacy, we support every pregnant person and every family. To learn more about March of Dimes, please visit marchofdimes.org.