Interdiciplinary studies on preterm birth: Creating a legacy of team research

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The PreHOT interdisciplinary research team recently achieved a five-year milestone in their research program and has curated a collection of diverse manuscripts on preterm birth to mark the accomplishment. This collection of papers is published today as a supplement in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. We caught up with Andrew Lyon, one of the people behind the supplement, to speak to him about his experience working with an interdisciplinary group and publishing with the BMC-series.

BMC: Tell us about how this interdisciplinary team came together.

Andrew Lyon: The Preterm Birth and Healthy Outcomes Team (PreHOT) developed when groups of health researchers were faced with a serious medical threat of mutual interest and a research funding opportunity to understand and mitigate that threat.

During the late 1990s, the rate of low birth weight in the Canadian province of Alberta consistently exceeded the national average. To guide public health initiatives, the ministry of health of Alberta funded the May 2007 Consensus Development Conference on Healthy Mothers-Healthy Babies: How to Prevent Low Birth Weight to raise awareness of the fact that preterm birth is a major cause of low birth weight, is a serious threat to public health, and has a substantial economic impact. The conference was an opportunity for a wide variety of researchers in western Canada to attend, contribute to the consensus and become better acquainted with each other’s disciplines and the skills and passions for addressing this problem.

A new funding program for interdisciplinary health research teams was announced by Alberta Innovates: Health Solutions (formerly known as The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research). With the expertise of numerous scientists and a strong core of research leaders, the PreHOT team was created and a successful grant application was forged to address the issue of preterm birth, not only from the Alberta-based researchers, but with links across Canada with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and to the March of Dimes and the World Health Organization Preterm Birth International Consortium.

BMC: What was the motivation for including clinicians, basic science researchers, nurses, psychologists, epidemiologists and qualitative researchers on your team? How has this diversity benefitted the project?

AL: We remain motivated to include people with a diverse range of perspectives and experience to better address the prevention, prediction and interventions associated with preterm birth. Working within an interdisciplinary team creates unique opportunities to gain insights and perspective not otherwise available to research within any single discipline. This diversity has provided challenges, but the breadth of experience on the team enabled successes beyond our initial expectations, such as establishing the All Our Babies longitudinal cohort and biobank to provide maternal and child data, information about the healthcare system as well as biological specimens. The All Our Babies data is a resource that will enable research across disciplines for several years.

In her article about the team, Dr. Tough provides a thorough description of origins, scope and accomplishments of our interdisciplinary team.

BMC: What are the major products that have emerged from this project?

AL: The PreHOT team has created or contributed to several tools that will enable future research:

• The All Our Babies Longitudinal Cohort
• The characterization and development of human myometrial cell culture systems
• Development of a Guinea Pig model of pregnancy
• Development and characterization of a rat model of preterm birth
• Development of parenting skills among fathers of preterm infants to improve outcomes: Fathers and Babies
• The family integrated care model for parents of preterm infants in intensive care
• International collaborations to determine the genetic basis of preterm birth and CenteringPregnancy, a group model of prenatal care.

BMC: Why did you choose to publish your research with BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth?

AL: BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth is a peer-reviewed journal that serves research on all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth and is well suited for the interdisciplinary research scope of our team. The journal’s rising impact factor, open access practice and our favorable experience with publication of an early PreHOT methodology paper made BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth a prime candidate journal to approach for publication of a series of articles.

BMC: What are the benefits of publishing a collection of papers in a supplement such as this?

AL: As the fifth year of research was underway, we looked for ways to create a legacy for the team. We had a number of manuscripts being written and had already published 190 peer-reviewed papers. To promote distribution and awareness of our research team we considered an e-book or widely distributed electronic report, however we also wanted this research to have the credibility that comes with peer-reviewed publication. The idea of publishing a collection of peer-reviewed papers in an open-access journal emerged as an ideal solution, and BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth gave us that opportunity.

Speaking to BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, Suzanne Tough, Director of the PreHOT consortium, said: “The opportunity to strategically invest in the development of team science has led to incredible experiences for our investigators and trainees including new knowledge and methodologies. We have learned from each other and brought new ideas to bear on the complex problem of preterm birth. The diversity of ideas and backgrounds has resulted in unanticipated synergy and improved problem solving. We look forward to future collaborations!”

For more information on the PreHot group, visit their homepage, or see their videos on the Alberta Innovates: Health Solutions YouTube channel. You can read previous supplements published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth here. For more information on publishing a supplement featuring work from your research team, conference, or other group, please visit our website or contact our Supplements team at supplements@biomedcentral.com.