NIH Establishes Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence

Aug. 21, 2023

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $24 million in first-year funding to establish Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence. Part of NIH’s Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) initiative, the centers will develop and evaluate innovative approaches to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths and promote maternal health equity. The grants are expected to last seven years and total an estimated $168 million, pending the availability of funds.

Compared to other high-income countries, the United States has a high rate of maternal deaths, with more than 1,200 such deaths occurring in 2021, the most recent year for which data are available. Each year tens of thousands more Americans experience severe pregnancy-related complications, which can raise the risk of future health concerns, including high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health conditions. There are stark disparities in these maternal health outcomes by racial and ethnic group, age, education, socioeconomic status and geographic region. 

“The magnitude and persistence of maternal health disparities in the United States underscore the need for research to identify evidence-based solutions to promote health equity and improve outcomes nationwide,” says Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “Through collaborations with community partners and others, the Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence will generate critical scientific evidence to help guide clinical care and reduce health disparities during and after pregnancy.” 

NICHD, the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research co-lead the IMPROVE initiative, with involvement from several other components at NIH. 

The centers of excellence include 10 research centers, a data innovation and coordinating hub and an implementation science hub. Together, these institutions will work to design and implement research projects to address the biological, behavioral, environmental, sociocultural and structural factors that affect pregnancy-related complications and deaths. They will focus on populations that experience health disparities, including racial and ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, those living in underserved rural areas, sexual and gender minority populations and people with disabilities. 

Research centers will partner with community collaborators, such as state and local public health agencies, community health centers and faith-based organizations. Additionally, the research centers will support training and professional development of maternal health researchers, including those from backgrounds underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce. 

Funding for the centers was awarded after a competitive peer review process. The following institutions, listed alphabetically along with project name and contact principal investigator, will participate as research centers: 

  • Avera McKennan Hospital, Sioux Falls, South Dakota Maternal American-Indian Rural Community Health (MARCH) Principal investigator: Amy J. Elliott, Ph.D. 
  • Columbia University, New York City NY Community-Hospital-Academic Maternal Health Equity Partnerships (NY-CHAMP) Principal investigator: Uma Reddy, M.D. 
  • Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi Delta Mississippi Center of Excellence in Maternal Health Principal investigator: Mary D. Shaw, Ph.D. 
  • Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Addressing Key Social-Structural Risk Factors for Racial Disparities in Maternal Morbidity in Southeastern Wisconsin (ASCEND WI) Principal investigator: Anna Palatnik, M.D. 
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing Maternal Health Multilevel Intervention/s for Racial Equity (MIRACLE) Center Principal investigator: Cristian Ioan Meghea, Ph.D. 
  • Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta Center to Advance Reproductive Justice and Behavioral Health among Black Pregnant/Postpartum Women and Birthing People (CORAL) Principal investigator: Natalie Dolores Hernandez, Ph.D. 
  • Stanford University, Stanford, California Stanford PRIHSM: Preventing Inequities in Hemorrhage-related Severe Maternal Morbidity Principal investigator: Yasser Y. El-Sayed, M.D. 
  • Tulane University, New Orleans Southern Center for Maternal Health Equity Principal investigator: Emily Wheeler Harville, Ph.D.
  • University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City Center for Indigenous Resilience, Culture, and Maternal Health Equity Principal investigator: Karina M. Shreffler, Ph.D.
  • University of Utah, Salt Lake City ELEVATE Center: Reduction of Maternal Morbidity from Substance Use Disorder in Utah Principal investigator: Torri D. Metz, M.D. 

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, will serve as the data innovation and coordinating hub. Led by principal investigator Andreea Creanga, M.D., Ph.D., this hub will support data collection, ensure high data quality and provide data science expertise. The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, will serve as the implementation science hub. Under the direction of principal investigator Meghan Brooks Lane-Fall, M.D., this hub will help to promote the integration of research findings and evidence into public health, clinical practice and community settings. 

NIH release