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$11 million to help preterm babies
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The National Institutes of Health has awarded a University of Iowa team $11 million to treat diseases affecting babies born prematurely. The grant—the fourth renewal obtained by the research team led by John Widness, UI professor of pediatrics—will test a novel alternative for delivering life-sustaining supplies of red blood cells to preterm infants.
Preterm babies are especially susceptible to anemia, in which the blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells, and thrombocytopenia, a condition in which the blood has a lower than normal number of blood cell fragments called platelets. As a result, babies born prematurely are at greater risk for significant health problems, including bleeding in the brain, poor weight gain, breathing difficulties, and long-term learning and memory deficits.
Currently, red blood cell and platelet transfusions are the main way doctors treat preterm babies. But the method is invasive, and can lead to further health complications, such as infection, internal bleeding, and heart and lung problems.
“We will provide therapies for reducing unnecessary red cell and platelet transfusions and for making those required safer and more effective,” says Widness, the principal investigator on the grant. “Doing so will reduce costly short- and long-term consequences of these two challenging conditions.”
Widness and Peter Veng-Pedersen, UI professor of pharmaceutics and translational therapeutics, are using discarded blood along with sophisticated computer models to predict how a non-invasive hormonal treatment could stimulate red blood cell production and alleviate the need for transfusions.
The new funding will support four subprojects along with a laboratory and database center, including:
- Optimized Epo Treatment of Neonatal Anemia, led by Widness and Veng-Pedersen
- Neonatal Thrombocytopenia and its Treatment, led by Martha Sola-Visner, assistant professor of pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School
- Preterm Transfusions: Brain Structure and Function Outcomes, led by Peggy C. Nopoulos, UI professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and neurology
- The Role of Neonatal Anemia in Learning and Memory, led by Michael Georgieff, professor in pediatrics and child psychology, University of Minnesota School of Medicine
- Laboratory and Data Management Core, led by Donald Mock, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
The Neonatal Hematology Collaborative Research Group, as the research team is called, includes scientists from the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, the College of Pharmacy, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as researchers from Arkansas, Emory University, Harvard, Minnesota, the State University of New York-Buffalo, and Charité Hospital in Berlin, Germany.