Promising New Treatment for Prematurity Published Today in New England Journal of Medicine

March of Dimes
Thursday, 12 June 2003

Weekly injections of a derivative of the hormone progesterone may help prevent recurrence of premature birth, according to a study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is a very impressive result, and this treatment may prove to be a powerful new tool to help prevent preterm birth in women at high risk because of their history of having previously delivered a premature baby," said Nancy S. Green, M.D., medical director of the March of Dimes. "We don't yet know the implications for first-time mothers or for women at lower risk. We look forward to more clinical trials to help answer these questions."

Dr. Green said such research is needed because premature birth is a serious and common health problem in the United States, and growing worse. In 2001, more than 476,000 babies, or nearly 12 percent of live births, were born prematurely (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy). "The annual rate of babies born prematurely has risen 27 percent since 1981, and this rate is unacceptably high," said Dr. Green. "Many of these babies come into the world with serious health problems. Those who survive may suffer life-long consequences, from cerebral palsy and mental retardation to blindness."

She said prematurity is also a very expensive problem. In the year 2000, hospital charges for 23,000 prematurity-related infant stays totaled $1.2 billion; the average hospital charge was $58,000 per baby, compared to $4,300 for a typical newborn stay.

In January 2003, the March of Dimes launched a five-year, $75 million prematurity campaign, which seeks to increase public awareness of the problems of prematurity and decrease the rate of preterm birth in the U.S.

"Prevention of Recurrent Preterm Delivery by 17 Alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate," by Paul J. Meis, M.D., and colleagues of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network, Bethesda, Maryland, was published in NEJM, volume 348, number 24, pages 2379-2385, June 12, 2003.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a five-year campaign to address the increasing rate of premature birth. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at, its Spanish Web site at, or call 1-888-MODIMES.

For more information, or to contact March of Dimes, see their website at:

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