Grand Challenges Exploration grant awarded to UCSF/CDPH researcher Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski

Dr. Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, PhD, an Associate Adjunct Professor in UCSF's Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Chief of Outcomes of Long-term Follow-up at the Genetic Disease Screening Program within the California Department of Public Health, was recently awarded an 18-month grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to develop an algorithm for gestational age dating. The grant was awarded through the BMGF Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) program, a $100 million initiative that funds innovative ideas and groundbreaking research to solve complex and persistent global health challenges. This GCE funding round aimed to "Explore New Ways to Measure Fetal and Infant Brain Development."

Along with co-investigators Dr. George Rutherford (GHS) and Dr. Mary Norton(OB/GYN), Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski will explore whether metabolic markers collected during routine newborn screening can be used to develop an algorithm for gestational age dating at birth. This metabolic algorithm may be relevant across diverse populations and settings, particularly where current technologies such as ultrasound are not widely available or where potentially inaccurate dating methods are used, such as last menstrual period. Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski has extensive expertise in the use of population-based national and statewide birth cohorts for the study of intrauterine growth restriction, structural birth defects, and preterm birth.

An estimated one in ten babies is born prematurely each year in some settings. Surviving infants are at increased risk for death before five-years of age, as well as long-term health problems and cognitive impairments. The ability to accurately assess gestational age is critical for tracking rates of preterm birth and for ensuring that a baby receives care that is appropriate for his or her gestational age.

The award strengthens UCSF's growing research portfolio in preterm birth. Earlier this year, the Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi) was established by BMGF and Marc and Lynne Benioff to address the complex epidemic of preterm birth through transdisciplinary discovery and implementation research. Drs. Jelliffe-Pawlowski, Rutherford and Norton are also involved in the PTBi planning phase as it determines where UCSF and its partners can have the greatest impact in reducing the burden of prematurity, both locally and globally.