Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI)

Research Focus Areas

MIRI investigators with mother and newborn baby

The Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI) currently centers its research on three topics of current clinical, public health and economic significance:

  • Preterm birth and its complications
  • Reduction of adverse affects on mother and child due to maternal obesity
  • Fetal and neonatal genomic medicine

Premature Birth and Its Complications

Premature birth is a major health problem. Even today, little is known about how to prevent it. At present, 12.3% of live births in the United States are preterm. Despite many advances in prenatal care, this rate increased 31% in the 27-year period from 9.4% in 1981 to 12.3% in 2008. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely. Africa has the highest rate of preterm birth, but surprisingly, North America has the second highest rate. Preterm birth presents a higher risk than full term birth for infant mortality and a broad range of lifelong health and developmental problems, including acute and chronic respiratory, gastrointestinal, immunologic, hearing, vision, motor, cognitive and behavioral disorders.  The annual costs of medical expenses in the U.S. related to preterm birth are approximately $26 billion.  This does not begin to measure the emotional impact on an individual’s or family’s life or to society. For the smallest and sickest premature infant born at less than 28 weeks, medical costs in the first year of life average $190,467 (Source: Institute of Medicine 2007).  In contrast, a baby delivered at full term incurs medical costs averaging $3,325.  Furthermore, formerly preterm babies generate long-term health care costs for treatment of conditions such as chronic lung disease or developmental disorders related to complications of their prematurity.

Reduction of Adverse Affects on Mother and Child Due to Maternal Obesity

Maternal obesity is a major public health crisis that has emerged over the past 20 years. Currently, 1 in 3 pregnant women in the United States is obese. Maternal obesity results in higher rates of cesarean section, higher rates of infant birth defects and a three-fold higher incidence of neonatal death. Babies born to obese mothers, even if born at a normal weight, are predisposed to obesity and metabolic dysregulation through the lifespan.. Recent data from NICHD suggests that excessive weight gain in pregnancy, regardless of pre-pregnancy BMI, also predisposes to hypertension, preeclampsia, and infant cardiac defects.

Fetal and Neonatal Genomic/Personalized Medicine

The enormous amount of new knowledge generated by the Human Genome Project and the rapid advancement of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies have created new opportunities to advance the clinical care of pregnant women and their newborns. There is a need, however, to develop safer, more accurate, and more cost effective prenatal testing, as well as to develop new treatments that can begin in the womb, by giving pregnant women medications that are targeted for their fetuses.  In addition, analysis of gene expression can determine the functional stage of maturity for a premature baby, which can lead to personalized diagnosis and therapy in the NICU, as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach that is currently used.

Jill Maron, MD, MIRI Principal Investigator on video.

Breastfeeding: It's Complicated

MIRI Investigator Jill Maron, MD, MPH debunks the myth that breastfeeding comes easily and is instinctual to every newborn.

Watch Video