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VCU Partners with GAPPS Repository for Groundbreaking Preterm Birth Research

September 9, 2013 – The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $7.4 million grant to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University to study pregnancy and preterm birth, utilizing a novel pregnancy biobank – the GAPPS Repository – and other academic institutions for specimens and data.

The Multi’Omic Microbiome Study - Pregnancy Initiative (MOMS-PI) at VCU will be analyzing the maternal and neonatal microbiome to assess its role as a cause of preterm birth. The study is a collaborative project with the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s. The data from the study will be integrated into a database available to researchers, with the objective of stimulating additional studies of women’s health during pregnancy.

“Having access to an established pregnancy biobank saves us tremendous time and money that would have otherwise been spent on start-up and operational costs,” said Gregory A. Buck, PhD, and principal investigator of MOMS-PI. “Our partnership with GAPPS and our use of the GAPPS Repository are critical factors in this research and will help us make tremendous advances in understanding the impact of pregnancy on the maternal microbiome and how that relates to preterm birth.”

For the MOMS-PI study, the GAPPS Repository will be collecting specimens and data from 600 mothers and their newborns over a three year period. Specimens such as cervical and vaginal swabs are collected throughout pregnancy. Once the babies are born, additional collections include placental tissues and neonatal urine. All tissue specimens are paired with data about the mothers’ diet, environmental factors, health history, and more. To ensure participant privacy, specimens and data are de-identified and matched only by number.

“We established the GAPPS Repository to help facilitate innovative research into pregnancy and its complications. Partnering with MOMS-PI on this study means an increase in the scientific understanding of prematurity, and ultimately, will help more pregnancies result in healthy births,” said Michael Gravett, MD, scientific director for GAPPS. “The data produced from the study will be made widely available, which means that many additional studies can be done using the information that is generated.”

Every year 15 million babies are born prematurely around the world, including 500,000 in the USA; globally more than one million babies born prematurely die each year. Many preterm babies who survive face extended hospital stays and lifelong health complications including cerebral palsy, developmental delays, respiratory issues, and more. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine reported that preterm birth in the United States costs society at least $26 billion a year.

About VCU and the VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see

The Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), an initiative of Seattle Children’s, leads a collaborative, global effort to increase awareness and accelerate innovative research and interventions that will improve maternal, newborn and child health outcomes around the world. To learn more, please visit

Casey Calamusa:, 206.884.1014. 




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