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Tufts Medical Center Receives First Ever Grant from the William Randolph Hearst Foundations

The recent $100,000 gift to the Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI) from the William Randolph Hearst Foundations is transforming how clinical and translational research is done in MIRI’s three primary research areas – prenatal diagnosis, adverse effects of maternal obesity, and prematurity. 

With the funds, a new, collegially-designed workspace will foster face to face collaboration between researchers from Genetics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Neurology. The Hearst Foundations’ investment has enabled a complete renovation of one of the large MIRI laboratories in the Tupper building to better promote clinical research, the use of computer data bases, and to create an “incubator” atmosphere to foster creativity and futuristic thinking.

Hearst’s generous gift has also enabled MIRI to purchase the “QuantStudio® 7 Flex Real Time PCR System” manufactured by Life Technologies Applied Biosystems.  The QuantStudio is a powerful state-of-the-art tool for discovering the underlying genetic mechanisms of the disorders being studied in MIRI.  It will allow MIRI’s researchers to identify and validate biomarkers related to their research. For example, Dr. Jill Maron is using the new PCR system to analyze the saliva of premature newborns to determine if their gene expression pattern indicates a readiness to orally feed. Contrary to popular thought, an infant’s ability to feed by bottle or breast is not automatic. It is a skill that takes coordination of many muscles and the abilitiy to protect the airway.  Dr. Maron’s research has shown that she can predict when a premature baby is developmentally ready to feed, saving millions of dollars in unnecessary hospitalization days.

Medical research has established that events that occur at critical stages of human development in the womb influence the later occurrence of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and inflammatory disorders such as asthma, in childhood and adulthood. Inspired by these discoveries, in 2010 Diana Bianchi, MD, established the Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI) with the overarching goal of bringing together different types of specialists to transform the health of the next generation by integrating fetal information from pre-conception onwards to diagnose and treat illnesses that affect people throughout their lives.  This approach is uniquely possible at a place like Tufts Medical Center and its Floating Hospital for Children, where people of all ages receive their medical care.

When interviewed about the gift, Dr. Bianchi stated that, “I am extremely grateful for the support we have received from the Hearst Foundations, which has allowed us to purchase state of the art scientific equipment as well as to renovate a formerly unused space. The new space will be essential for the training of future researchers and it will create a positive environment that will surely lead to new discoveries.”

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