MUSC Vitamin D project aims to improve pregnancy outcomes

Heather Woolwine

July 5, 2012

MUSC Vitamin D project aims to improve pregnancy outcomes

Researchers seek to improve immune system function and change public policy

CHARLESTON -- Physician researchers, who have struggled with preventing vitamin D deficiency and subsequent health effects in some pregnant women, will now have an opportunity to explore how to eliminate those deficiencies. Thanks to a $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Children's Hospital faculty researchers will learn more about vitamin D's effect on maternal health and fetal development during pregnancy and in so doing, develop public policy recommendations about vitamin D supplementation.

Currently, the U.S. presents a large racial disparity in vitamin D status. Compared to white women, black women have a 20-fold greater risk of deficiency and Hispanic women a 2.4-fold greater risk of deficiency. In South Carolina, MUSC Children's Hospital researchers have already discovered that the situation is more pronounced with approximately 70% of black women, 33% of Hispanic women and 12% of white pregnant women meeting the Institute of Medicine's 2010 definition of vitamin D deficiency.

According to their recent research, vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise across all ethnicities, but particularly in pregnant, non-white women. "Such disparity on the basis of race represents a serious public health issue," said Carol Wagner, M.D., MUSC Children's Hospital neonatologist and project director. "This project will generate supportive data for supplementing all pregnant women with vitamin D at doses that enhance immune balance and regulation."

With the knowledge that Wagner and her colleagues expect to gain from this research, she anticipates not only learning more about vitamin D's role in a mother's immune system and problems created by deficiency, but also how deficiency might influence other poor pregnancy outcomes. The funding for the project couldn't come at a better time.

"We are so thrilled to have this research funding for Dr. Wagner because this work will increase our understanding of how the vitamin D a mother takes in during pregnancy affects the well-being of her baby. It offers a potentially easy intervention to improve things such as infection of the fetus and mother, and also premature delivery. Both of these are problems that can cause later abnormalities in the infant's brain development so treatment with vitamin D could have a really important effect on later neurologic impairment in children," said Rita Ryan, M.D., MUSC Children's Hospital Department of Pediatrics chair.

Wagner envisions the findings in the study enhancing pregnant women's and health care providers' knowledge of vitamin D deficiency and its effects, as well as offering the incentive needed to form the partnerships with policy makers at the local, state and federal levels needed to change disparate pregnancy outcomes in South Carolina and beyond.

"By focusing on immune system imbalance associated with vitamin D deficiency, we expect to show improvement in various pregnancy outcomes," Wagner said. "By the end of the study, we plan to be able to advise pregnant women on the optimal vitamin D intake during pregnancy, benefiting the health of mother and baby. I look forward to reducing this growing disparity that has plagued us for decades."

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. For more information, visit

About MUSC Children's Hospital

MUSC Children's Hospital is one of the largest and most comprehensive pediatric medical centers in the Southeastern United States. Three Neonatal Nurseries provide Level II and Level III care for pre-mature and newborn term infants. Using a family-centered approach, families are not considered visitors, rather essential participants in care and decisions that affect the total healing of the child. Mother-baby couplet nursing is the primary model of care for the obstetrical patient. Our extensive network of caring professionals, entirely devoted to the health and well-being of children, are driven by a commitment to adaptability and outcome accountability. Respect, dignity, information sharing, participation and collaboration are at the core of our culture. As a result, MUSC Children's Hospital has earned top rankings from Child magazine and American Health Magazine. In 2010, U.S. News & World Report ranked our pediatric heart program among the top 20 and our pediatric gastroenterology program among the top 50 in America. For more information about MUSC Children's Hospital, visit or, or like us on Facebook at