Preterm Birth Research Initiative


An estimated 390,000 babies are born each year in Canada. Of these, nearly 8 percent are born prematurely – at less than 37 weeks of gestation. The cause of the majority of preterm births is unknown.

Preterm birth may result in serious health complications for the baby and increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions later in the life; it also accounts for nearly two thirds of infant deaths in Canada. In addition, preterm birth has social and financial impacts on families and additional costs for society in terms of healthcare and education.

CIHR’s Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health has established a Preterm Birth Initiative to support new and innovative research ideas as well as improvements in the perinatal health care system and patient outcomes.

The Institute has invested $6.45 million to support three elements under its initiative:

  • A pan-Canadian collaborative preterm birth research network
  • A research team focusing on improving the perinatal health care system in Canada
  • Six research projects focused on catalyzing new research approaches to preventing preterm birth and improving outcomes for babies born preterm

Preterm Birth Network

  • The Improving Outcomes for Preterm Infants and their Families: A Canadian Collaborative Network led by Dr. Prakeshkumar Shah at Toronto’s Sinai Health System will bring together researchers, doctors, nurses, and families from coast-to-coast to improve the delivery of care and consequently the outcomes of preterm birth. The network will conduct research across the continuum of care for extremely preterm infants. Over the next 5 years, the network aims to increase the rate of preterm infant survival without complications by 30%.

Funding: $4.25 million over five years

Perinatal Health Care System Improvement

Overall Canadians benefit from excellent perinatal health care. However, the regionalization of care throughout Canada results in significant variability in maternal and infant outcomes, perinatal care practices, and health care system performance between provinces and territories.

A research team led by Dr. K.S. Joseph at the University of British Columba and the BC Children’s Hospital will analyze the perinatal health care system in Canada to determine the impact of regionalization on hospital services, emergency transport, access to care, and health outcomes from mothers and babies. The results will be used to formulate and implement recommendations for optimizing care in collaboration with provincial and territorial health ministries and perinatal care programs.

Funding: $1.0 million over five years

Catalyzing Innovation in Preterm Birth Research

Six research projects were funded, with funding of approximately $200,000 per grant, on health issues commonly affecting premature babies and their mothers.

  • Dr. Karen Benzies at the University of Calgary will study the effect of a family integrated model of care on child development, maternal mental health, and health care costs.
  • Dr. Lawrence McCandless at Simon Fraser University will estimate the cumulative impact of a mother’s exposure to environmental contaminants on preterm birth.
  • Dr. Silvia Pagliardini at the University of Alberta will study the control of expiration – or breathing out – in preterm newborns as a way of treating irregular breathing during sleep.
  • Dr. Katherine Ryan at the University of British Columbia will identify the factors in the gut bacteria that protect infants from necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious disease affecting premature babies.
  • Dr. Oksana Shynlova at Toronto’s Sinai Health System will study magnetic resonance imaging of a mother’s cervix and blood markers as a tool to predict preterm birth.
  • Dr. Graeme Smith at Queen’s University will develop new therapeutics for the treatment of pre-eclampsia – or high blood pressure – in pregnant women.

Together these projects will advance our knowledge and understanding of the causes and mechanisms of preterm birth and guide new approaches to prevent preterm birth and improve health outcomes for premature babies.

Funding: A total of $1.2 million over two years

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