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From Polio To Prematurity: March Of Dimes Celebrates 75 Years Of Life-Saving Achievements

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Dec. 28, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- March of Dimes, the leading non-profit organization for maternal and infant health, will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2013 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.

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The March of Dimes plans a year-long celebration in 2013 beginning on January 30th to honor its founder, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was born on that day. 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 field 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.

"For 75 years, March of Dimes has dedicated itself to giving all children an equal chance at a healthy start in life," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of March of Dimes. "Since our founding, research has been a key strategy that has led to many new treatments and saved thousands of lives."

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 part of its ongoing mission to improve babies' health, the March of Dimes is releasing its first consumer guide to pregnancy this month. Written by March of Dimes medical adviser Dr. Siobhan Dolan and published by Harper Collins, Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby includes tips on pre-natal care, and the latest guidance and advice on genetics, caffeine and alcohol in pregnancy, immunizations you need, and many other topics. The book can be pre-ordered at: marchofdimes.com/healthymombook.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies®, March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

SOURCE March of Dimes

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