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March of Dimes awards Nevada School of Medicine's Iain Buxton preterm birth research grant

University of Nevada School of Medicine pharmacology professor Iain Buxton, Pharm.D., is one of six researchers nationwide who recently received word that he will receive a share of $2.6 million in preterm birth research grants from the March of Dimes over the next three years to support his work studying the causes of preterm birth.

Buxton, the only Nevada researcher to receive this award, will use the competitive grant funding to continue his work on a genetic variant in the uterine muscle that, if present, codes for dysfunction of normal relaxation signals, thus contributing to preterm birth. His study proposes to determine if alterations in the gene are responsible for premature births in otherwise unexplained cases. Initial data for his study suggest that the gene is normally regulated by pregnancy and that expression of the variant gene might explain recurrence of preterm labor.

"The mechanism allowing the uterus to maintain a relaxed state during pregnancy is contributed by a particular protein and if we are right, we may be able to predict the likelihood of preterm birth even before conception," Buxton said.

For this phase of his study, Buxton will be looking for a variant of the protein which may describe a woman at risk for preterm birth. "If this particular pathway can be manipulated to prevent premature contraction, it can lead to new treatments for preterm birth and can be a potential screening tool," he said.

With this study on preterm birth, Buxton is collaborating with School of Medicine professor Paul Stumpf, M.D., chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department, to marry basic science research with practical clinical applications for the betterment of patients.

According to the March of Dimes, preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death in the United States, and babies who survive face serious lifelong health problems. More than 543,000 babies are born too soon each year, and the nation's premature birth rate has increased 36 percent since the early 1980s.

Provided by University of Nevada, Reno