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From Polio to Prematurity

March of Dimes celebrates 75 years of life-saving achievement

From Polio to Prematurity
March 2013

March of Dimes, the leading non-profit organization for maternal and infant health, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and its ongoing work to help all babies get a healthy start in life. About 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, and the March of Dimes has helped each and every one through research, education, vaccines and breakthroughs.

The March of Dimes launched the year-long celebration in Indiana on February 1st with the 75th Anniversary Birthday Bash, to honor its founder, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was born on January 30th 131 years ago. Affected by polio himself, FDR established the Foundation in 1938 to "lead, direct and unify" the fight against polio. In FDR's day, polio was an epidemic disease that paralyzed or killed up to 52,000 Americans, mostly children, every year.

The March of Dimes got its name when comedian Eddie Cantor asked Americans to send their dimes to FDR at the White House to help defeat polio. The foundation later funded the development of the Salk vaccine which was tested in 1954 and licensed a year later, as well as the Sabin vaccine which became available in 1962. Nearly all babies born today still receive a lifesaving polio vaccine.

Throughout its history, the March of Dimes has supported many important research milestones that have benefitted newborn and child health. For example, in 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick identified the double helix structure of DNA, announcing, "We have found the secret of life." Watson had received a grant from the March of Dimes that helped support his research on "protein patterns." The team's work won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and paved the way for modern genetic medicine, including the mapping of the human genome.

Another research breakthrough came in the early 1960s when March of Dimes-supported grantee Dr. Robert Guthrie developed the first screening test for PKU (phenylketonuria), allowing prevention of intellectual disabilities caused by PKU through diet. Since that time, the March of Dimes and family groups have campaigned tirelessly for expanded newborn screening. Today every baby born in every state in the U.S. receives screening for dozens of conditions that could cause catastrophic health problems or death if not detected and treated promptly at birth.

Today, the March of Dimes is hard at work to prevent the epidemic of premature birth, which affects nearly a half million babies every year. It established the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine that is bringing together the brightest minds from many disciplines -- geneticists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, engineers, computer scientists and many others -- to work together and find answers to explain and prevent preterm birth. The March of Dimes current research portfolio consists of about $100 million in grants to investigators throughout the United States and in about a dozen countries worldwide.

As March of Dimes continues its critical work in maternal and child health, you can join our efforts by registering for Indianapolis March for Babies, to be held on May 11, 2013. Held on Mother's Day weekend, we'll celebrate 75 years of accomplishments with a day of activities for the whole family, including the Indy's Child Family Fair, a "Taste of Indy", bounce houses and fun for the kids, and all in an effort to raise critical funding for March of Dimes research, education, awareness and advocacy. Register your team today at www.marchforbabies.org! You can reach the Indiana Chapter of March of Dimes at 317-262-4668.

Tags: In This Issue, Infant & Baby, March of Dimes, Pediatric Health

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