Giving birth to research: Doctor on quest to deliver preterm labor data

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Utah County is not only the ideal location for labor research, it’s also home to the largest, busiest NICU in the state. Thanks to a 2013 expansion, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center now has nearly 65 beds for preemies, who stay an average of 19.2 days. Each station is equipped with cameras for parents to watch their baby when they are away. (Photo by Rebecca Lane)

Utah County is not only the ideal location for labor research, it’s also home to the largest, busiest NICU in the state. Thanks to a 2013 expansion, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center now has nearly 65 beds for preemies, who stay an average of 19.2 days. Each station is equipped with cameras for parents to watch their baby when they are away. (Photo by Rebecca Lane)

Preterm birthrates haven’t dropped significantly in 100 years, and Dr. Helen Feltovich is basing her career on figuring out why.

As a specialist in maternal fetal medicine, Dr. Feltovich sees a full range of patients inside her OB practice at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, and she dreads having to tell them she doesn’t know all the reasons why their body wants to go into labor before 37 weeks.

To this end, she has put together partnerships with doctors and institutions around the country to gather data and share resources. She’s become the national go-to expert on preterm labor, the cervix and ultrasound technology.

Dr. Helen Feltovich is one of the world leaders in preterm labor research from her office overlooking 500 West in Provo. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst)

Dr. Helen Feltovich is one of the world leaders in preterm labor research from her office overlooking 500 West in Provo. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst)

One of her data gathering strategies is to study one of the only breeding colonies of monkeys in the country, which is located in Madison, Wis.

“Monkeys have almost the same rates of pregnancy complications as humans,” Dr. Feltovich says. “We have records on generations of monkeys and they allow us to scan them for over an hour, which we can never do with humans.”

Dr. Feltovich is studying patterns at the molecular level and believes the next decade will bring breakthroughs as she partners with physicists and engineers.

“We don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind preterm labor, and I’m tired of having my hands tied behind my back,” she says.

Her passion for the cause led her to relocate her family from Minnesota to Utah.

“All of the OB/GYNs in this community are extraordinarily supportive of my research,” she says. “I have never had a patient decline to be in a study since I came to Utah. That is special, and that is what Utah County is all about.”

In addition, Dr. Feltovich is happy to have her research in gestation within Intermountain Healthcare.

“Intermountain is doing something unprecedented by funding my research,” she says. “Everywhere I go my colleagues are amazed. Intermountain is answering to the current crisis in medical research.”

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