Emily DeFranco, DO, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and division director of maternal fetal medicine, is helping bring more healthy babies into the world. As a researcher and clinician, DeFranco specializes in high-risk obstetrics with a focus on preterm birth.
“Throughout my career, I've looked at a variety of different risk factors attributable to preterm birth to try to better understand risk factors, especially modifiable ones,” said DeFranco. “We need to better understand these factors’ influence on preterm birth and how women might be able to alter their risk, especially patients who have had a previous preterm birth.”
Currently, DeFranco is working on an NIH-funded, multi-center study looking at DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, and its effect on preterm birth. Some preliminary studies have shown that higher doses of DHA may lower the risk of preterm birth.
“It's a low-risk, or maybe no-risk intervention, that potentially all women can utilize,” said DeFranco. “It’s important to target everybody when you're trying to prevent preterm birth because most women who deliver prematurely don't have any risk factors.”
This is just one of more than 40 studies DeFranco is working on with undergraduate students, medical students and other physicians-in-training who she is mentoring throughout the research process. A majority of the studies also are related to preterm birth, and many are epidemiologic studies analyzing data.
“To some degree, I’ve always been a mentor to students in research or in clinical settings, and it brings a lot of satisfaction to my job,” said DeFranco.
DeFranco’s efforts to reduce preterm birth could have significant impacts, not only on patients and the medical community, but on the larger economy as well. The National Academies’ Health and Medicine Division estimates the economic burden of preterm birth in the United States to be $26.2 billion annually. It’s one of the leading causes of infant mortality, which is an important indicator of population health.
While the United States has one of the highest preterm birth rates for industrialized nations, DeFranco is hopeful that it won’t stay that way. DeFranco and her team are working tirelessly to better understand risk factors related to preterm birth and to develop interventions that will lead to fewer preterm births across the nation.