Prevention Research Center to focus on mother-baby health

October 18, 2019

Wisconsin’s first Prevention Research Center is coming to UW–Madison thanks to a five-year, $3.7 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is one of 25 academic institutions to receive funding from 2019 until 2024. The center reflects a partnership between the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the Institute for Research on Poverty and the School of Human Ecology.

The center’s mission will be to improve the health of low-income women, infants and families in Wisconsin. Deborah Ehrenthal, MD, MPH, associate professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and population health sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, will be the center’s director.

The goal of these centers is to study how communities and individuals can avoid risk for chronic illness.

“We are very excited to bring a center like this to Wisconsin. We will engage multidisciplinary campus researchers, public health practitioners and community-based and government organizations from across the state to develop a prevention research agenda aligned with Wisconsin’s priorities,” said Ehrenthal. “The long-term effects of pregnancy and early childhood point to these as key periods when prevention may have the greatest impact on adult health and chronic disease.”

This focus area is of great importance in Wisconsin, where the infant mortality rate for African-American babies is nearly three times that of white babies.

Research will focus on postpartum depression

The initial core center research project, led by Roseanne Clark, PhD, professor of psychiatry, and Jane Mahoney, MD, professor of medicine (geriatrics), will focus on addressing postpartum depression in Wisconsin mothers, improving the mother-infant relationship and infant development. About 20 percent of new mothers overall have postpartum depression, but the rate is nearly 30 percent among low-income mothers in Wisconsin.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to refine a two-generation mother-infant and family relationship-focused intervention for women experiencing postpartum depression,” said Clark. “This will help us identify key components for dissemination to other states that are trying to address this significant public health concern.”

“This is a great example of the Wisconsin Idea. Our work at the university can impact the entire state. The geographic, socioeconomic, racial and ethnic diversity make Wisconsin a great setting for prevention research,” said Ehrenthal. “The community-engaged prevention research done at our center can be used by other states and regions.”