New research consortium to tackle maternal health disparities with digital technologies

Mobile app-based research platform aims to engage and empower researchers and participants across the country.

December 07, 2021

LA JOLLA, CAThe Scripps Research Digital Trials Center has launched a new research consortium aimed at improving maternal and fetal health outcomes. The PowerMom consortium brings together organizations from a broad spectrum of sectors—from health and technology companies to advocacy groups and community health centers—to advance research into maternal health.

PowerMom leverages innovative digital and mobile technologies to recruit, monitor and communicate with pregnant study participants. Led by researchers at the Scripps Research Digital Trials Center, the goal is to build the largest, most diverse community of pregnant people and gather valuable health information that will hopefully help guide expectant mothers and care teams toward healthier pregnancies.

The consortium will support efforts to build awareness of the study platform, encourage participation, provide wearable devices to eligible participants, and help guide scientific priorities.

A national public health crisis

The launch of the consortium comes at a pivotal moment. Maternal health in the United States remains in a state of crisis, ranking first in maternal mortality among developed nations. Despite global maternal mortality decreasing over the course of the last few decades, in the United States the rate has been increasing, with 63% of these pregnancy-related deaths being preventable.

Deep inequities across race, socioeconomic status and geography are exceedingly evident. Black, American Indian and Alaska Native mothers are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts, while Hispanic mothers have the highest rates of increase in severe maternal morbidity in recent years.

“Historically, pregnant people have been excluded from most clinical research resulting in significant knowledge gaps when it comes to understanding pregnancy on an individual level,” says Toluwalasé Ajayi, MD, who is a physician and clinical researcher at Scripps Research, and the principal investigator of PowerMom. “Staggering racial inequities make it all the more urgent for scientists to help tackle this national public health crisis.”

Joining forces 

Together with partners across the country, clinical researchers and data scientists at Scripps Research are approaching this challenge through a combination of innovation, crowdsourcing and community outreach. Tapping into the ubiquity of smartphones and improving broadband access, the PowerMom team has developed an app-based research platform that allows pregnant people to share health data through surveys, electronic health records and wearables such as fitness trackers and smartwatches. By enabling participants to enroll and participate in the study remotely, the scientists hope to eliminate some of the barriers that exist for traditional clinic-based studies which have historically lacked diversity. Building a large and diverse community of pregnant people will allow scientists to shed light on the unique characteristics that contribute to healthy pregnancies.

The team is partnering with organizations with a shared commitment to improving the health of mothers and babies. Outreach support will be provided by Microsoft, March of Dimes, WebMD, Mae, Happy Mama Healthy Baby Alliance, and African American Wellness Center for Children and Families all of which are helping build awareness of the study. CareEvolution, a health technology company that enables sharing of health information, developed MyDataHelps™, the research platform that powers PowerMom and many other digital studies currently underway. Digital health company Sharecare will assist with the development of digital biomarkers and AI models to track maternal health conditions through Smart Omix, its decentralized clinical research platform. In addition, Woebot Health is supporting a sub-study on postpartum mental health management, and Fitbit is supporting a study on the impact that systemic racism experienced by Black and Hispanic pregnant people may have on their health. 

“We are incredibly fortunate to be working with an exceptional group of organizations whose support will be invaluable to our goal of building a diverse community of pregnant people and advancing research on health disparities in maternal health,” says Katie Baca-Motes, director of strategic initiatives at Scripps Research. 

The PowerMom consortium builds on a successful pilot phase of the study which saw more than 3,500 pregnant people share their health data with scientists. The initial findings, published in npj Digital Medicine, demonstrate the utility of a smartphone app-based research platform in enabling the recruitment of a large and diverse population of pregnant people to participate in biomedical research.

Any pregnant person living in the United States who has a smartphone is eligible to start participating today. To learn more, visit

A new era of research

PowerMom is one in a portfolio of studies currently benefiting from this robust digital research platform that enables researchers and participants to gather valuable health data and translate that data into new knowledge. De-identified data can be securely analyzed by researchers, while participants gain insights into their own health. “Transparency and return of information allow for a unique partnership between scientists and study participants that promotes trust because it’s a bi-directional type of communication,” explains Ajayi.

The team at the Digital Trials Center aims to further expand their nationwide network of partners, enabling many more studies into different aspects of maternal health and other areas of health and well-being.

To learn more about the Digital Trials Center, visit

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