Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 23, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Wayne State vs. Yale

Nobody would compare Wayne State University with Yale. But in one area — research into at-risk pregnancies — Detroit’s huge state university outranks the Ivy League school.

Fifteen years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to locate its Perinatology Research Branch at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, a program which is run by Wayne State’s medical school. Last year, Yale University, one of the oldest and highest-ranked schools in the nation, made a bid for it.

But Washington selected Wayne State over Yale for a second time, awarding the inner-city school a $165.9 million grant to continue the work over the next decade. That may have happened partly because Hutzel, located in the heart of inner-city Detroit, delivers more at-risk babies than almost any hospital in the nation.

Regardless, hosting the center is an impressive achievement for not only the university, but the entire state.

This is anything but just another institute. The work that goes on there saves lives, both through research and patient care. Scientists working there already have discovered a progesterone gel that promises to reduce premature births in at-risk mothers by nearly half.

Last year, Wayne State researchers at the center found a way to measure brain connectivity in fetuses, which could potentially translate into ways to prevent autism and dyslexia before birth.

Yet last week, the Michigan Legislature may have put this entire vital program at risk, for the sake of a virtually meaningless cost saving. For years, the state has contributed to Hutzel’s annual funding. That amounted to a mere $6.7 million this year.

That money, however, is matched two dollars for one by the federal government, which has meant $20 million for the hospital, which delivers an astonishing 4,500 at-risk babies each year.

But this year, the Legislature nearly eliminated all funding for Hutzel, an astonishing omission that went nearly unnoticed until it was brought to the public’s attention by former state Sen. and congressman Joe Schwarz, who also happens to be a doctor.

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