Tackling problems associated with premature birth
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Premature infants often enter the world critically ill and almost always experience blood-related diseases such as anemia and thrombocytopenia (low platelet counts). As a result, they may face a variety of health obstacles, including bleeding in the brain, poor weight gain, breathing difficulties, and long-term learning and memory deficits. Further difficulties can arise when doctors use the preferred treatments, red blood cell or platelet transfusions, which may involve infection or other risks.
Led by UI Professor of Pediatrics John A. Widness, M.D., the Neonatal Hematology Collaborative Research Group recently received an $11 million grant renewal ("Neonatal Anemia and Thrombocytopenia: Pathophysiology and Treatment”, PO1 HL046925) to continue a 17-year-old collaboration dedicated to better understanding and treating these diseases. This is the group’s fourth 5-year grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health.
Currently, Widness and UI Professor of Pharmaceutics and Translational Therapeutics Peter Veng-Pedersen, Ph.D., are developing cutting-edge clinical trial simulations to test a novel alternative to blood cell transfusions. Using discarded blood and applying mathematics, high-tech computer programs, and sophisticated models they can predict ways in which a novel non-invasive hormonal treatment could stimulate red blood cell growth and alleviate any need for a transfusion.
Similarly, group members Dr. Martha Sola-Visner, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Don Mager, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at SUNY Buffalo, are evaluating the response of premature infants with thrombocytopenia to novel medicines developed to stimulate platelet production, thus potentially decreasing the need for platelet transfusions.
Michael K. Georgieff, MD, from the University of Minnesota said, “Transfusions carry risks to the developing brain, but so does anemia.” His work involves assessing the effect of anemia on brain development in mice. “We hope to learn what specifically happens to the brain when preterm infants are kept anemic,” Georgieff said.
“Clinical trial simulation is extremely important,” said Veng-Pedersen. “We’re trying to modify the perimeters of the clinical trial so you don’t waste taxpayers money or put any patients at risk, and ultimately provide a safer, better treatment option.”
Thus far the group has published over 200 papers, introducing new findings and treatments with widespread impact. For instance, they have changed blood-banking practices worldwide by encouraging the use of single donor red blood cells to reduce possible complications associated with receiving blood from multiple donors. Furthermore, they have successfully developed methods to reduce blood loss in infants that may occur during routine laboratory tests.
According to Widness, the most unique aspects of the overall project are the pooling of specialized resources and the wide diversity of interdisciplinary expertise. The group includes UI scientists from the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences as well as researchers from Harvard, SUNY Buffalo, Emory University, Charite Hospital in Berlin, Germany, and University of Minnesota.
The new funding will support four subprojects, including:
- Optimized Epo Treatment of Neonatal Anemia, led by UI Professor of Pediatrics John A Widness, MD.
- Neonatal Thrombocytopenia and its Treatment, led by Martha C. Sola-Visner, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.
- Preterm Transfusions: Brain Structure and Function Outcomes, led by UI Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Neurology Peggy C. Nopoulos, MD.
- The Role of Neonatal Anemia in Learning and Memory, led by Michael K. Georgieff, MD, Professor Pediatrics and Child Psychology, University of Minnesota School of Medicine.
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