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MIRI researchers: Summer on the road


When they weren’t in the lab this summer, MIRI Investigators were busy presenting exciting science at national and international conferences. Here are some of the highlights of their summer activities broadening scientific knowledge in obstetrics and neonatology, and the lifelong effects of these critical periods on children’s health.

Jill Maron, MD, MPH is a neonatologist at Tufts Children's Hospital.Dr. Jill Maron, Executive Director of MIRI, was an invited guest speaker along with Dr. David Wong (UCLA), Dr. Stuart Hunt (The University of Sheffield, UK) and Dr. Henk Brand (Academic Centre for Dentistry, the Netherlands) at the International Association of Dental Research in London in July.  The talk was part of the Symposium  “Will Saliva Translate to a Real Diagnostic Tool?", chaired by Dr. Lynne Bingle of the University of Sheffield.  It focused on the dynamically developing field of salivary diagnostics, highlighting both successes and challenges within it.   Dr. Maron specifically addressed unique considerations of integrating salivary diagnostics into the neonatal population.

She also attended the Charleston Swallowing Conference at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL in July, 2018. Dr. Maron gave the opening lecture for this conference, which focused on swallowing and feeding disorders across the lifespan. It was attended by 800 participants from over 14 countries.

She gave three other invited lectures over the summer: 

  • “Genetic Predisposition to Swallowing Impairment—Should We Base Patient Management on Their Genome?”
  • “Mimicking Prenatal Development in the Postnatal Course: Understanding the Evidence for Sensorimotor Intervention” (with Dr. Emily Zimmerman, Northeastern University)
  • “Hypoxic Ischemic  Encephalopathy” (with Dr. Heather McGhee, Medical University of South Carolina) 

Patrick Catalano is a researcher at the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts MCDr. Patrick Catalano attended the American Diabetes Association 78th Scientific Sessions Meeting in Orlando, FL from June 22-26.  His oral presentation was entitled “Longitudinal changes in amino acid (AA) turnover in pregnancy in women with normal glucose tolerance (NGT) and GDM – relationship to fetal growth.”  Dr. Catalano, who  has helped to identify the lifelong health consequences of maternal obesity and gestational diabetes on both pregnant women and their children, also co-chaired the ADA Symposium “Who Do You Think You Are?  Heterogeneity of Obesity and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.”

Other abstracts presented at the ADA meeting of which Dr. Catalano was a co-author are:

  • “Gestational diabetes (GDM) and childhood disorders of glucose metabolism – hyperglycemia and adverse pregnancy outcome follow-up study. (HAPO FUS)”
  • “The mitochondrial cholesterol transporter TSPO – Gatekeeper of gestational progesterone production.”
  • “High maternal DHA levels in Hawaiian women decrease insulin resistance.”

Here in Boston, Dr. Catalano was a participant in the symposium “Bridging the Chasm between Pregnancy and Women’s Health over the Life Course,” at Boston University School of Medicine on July 16-17.

Perrie O'Tierney- Ginn is a researcher at the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts MCDr. Fernanda is a post doctorate research fellowDr. Perrie O’Tierney-Ginn and Dr. Fernanda Alvarado, a postdoctoral fellow in the O’Tierney-Ginn lab, also attended the ADA meeting in Orlando.  Dr. O’Tierney-Ginn spoke at the symposium on “Placenta-derived biomarkers of adverse pregnancy outcomes in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.” During her presentation, Dr. O’Tierney-Ginn reviewed placental lipid metabolism in the setting of maternal obesity and diabetes, and discussed how these changes in placental lipid handling may contribute to altered fetal fat deposition. She also described recent data from her laboratory on how maternal diet modifies metabolic pathways in the placenta, and potentially the effects of maternal obesity on offspring.

The poster presented by Dr. Alvarado was entitled the “Relationship between Maternal DHA levels and Insulin Resistance in Hawaiian Women.” Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA have been shown to decrease insulin resistance in animals, though the effects of DHA in pregnant women are unclear. Dr. Alvarado presented data showing that high maternal DHA levels are associated with less insulin resistance in obese women.  The O’Tierney-Ginn team speculates that high omega-3 intake before pregnancy has a positive metabolic impact in obese women.

Michael House, MD is a maternal-fetal medicine physician at Tufts Medical Center.Dr. Michael House participated in a study section reviewing applications for an R01 investigating “Opioid Use Disorder in Pregnancy,” funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  This clinically-oriented R01 will fund research gaps in a critically important disorder.  As the funding opportunity states, “Opioid use has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. with 259 million prescriptions in 2012 alone, and this epidemic has not spared pregnant women.  Approximately one third of insured reproductive-aged women fill a prescription for an opioid medication each year. Every 3 minutes, a woman seeks care in an emergency department related to prescription opioid misuse.   The incidence of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome) increased from 1.19 to 5.77 per 1000 hospital live births per year between 2000 and 2009.  By 2012, nearly 22,000 neonates were born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome in the United States each year, translating to one neonate born every 30 minutes and resulting in $1.5 billion in hospital charges nationwide, constituting a public health emergency.  Moreover, opioid use during pregnancy is associated with maternal comorbidities, preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, and other neonatal complications.”

Tomo Tarui, MD is a pediatric neurologist at Tufts Children's Hospital in Boston.Dr. Tomo Tarui presented his team’s study, “Comparative quantitative MRI analyses of regional brain growth and cerebral sulcal development in living fetuses with isolated ventriculomegaly and Down syndrome,” at Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting 2018 in Toronto, Canada. PAS is one of the largest academic meetings in Pediatrics, hosting over 65,000 pediatricians, research scientists, health care providers and policy makers, including 13,000 international attendees. Dr. Tarui’s team revealed precise anatomical differences in fetal brains with Down syndrome and cerebral ventriculomegaly using advanced fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) quantitative analysis methods. Down syndrome and cerebral ventriculomegaly are the most common aneuploidy and fetal brain anomaly, respectively, detected during pregnancy. They look identical in fetal imaging studies such as ultrasound or fetal MRI. However, they are pretty different medical conditions, including neurodevelopmental symptoms. Dr. Tarui and team presented their work to differentiate fetal brain developmental patterns in two conditions using state-of-art fetal brain imaging analysis tools – brain volumetrics and cerebral sulcal pattern analyses - and showed that the two conditions indeed have quite different developmental features in developing fetal brains. Such differences may be associated with distinct neurodevelopmental outcomes after birth in these conditions. Dr. Tarui and his team continue to work on this project to further delineate their developmental differences in the fetal period and their potential impacts on future.

Mary Wallingford is a Principal Researcher with the MCRIDr. Wallingford attended the 77th Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) Annual Meeting in Portland Oregon July 20-24. She received a Junior Faculty Travel award to attend that meeting   At the meeting, she presented her abstract “Regulation of Inorganic Phosphate at the Maternal-Fetal Interface.” Phosphate is an essential element that plays numerous roles in human health.  It is a well-known component of the mineral that our bones are made of, but it also performs many other important functions.  While a large body of scientific research describes phosphate biology in the adult, very little is known about how phosphate gets to the developing baby.  The Wallingford group is closing this knowledge gap by defining maternal-fetal phosphate transport routes, testing hypotheses on the basic science of phosphate transport across the placenta, and developing new biological assays for maternal-fetal phosphate homeostasis that may one day be useful for assessment and interpretation of maternal and fetal health in the clinic.  Their recent work has identified a critical role for the sodium-dependent phosphate transporter Slc20a2 in fetal growth and development.  In future work they will evaluate actions of Slc20a2 at the molecular level during placentation and embryonic development.

Dr. Wallingford also attended the “SDB Boot Camp for New Faculty” on July 19-20 at Reed College in Oregon.  The boot camp introduced best practices on effective teaching, mentoring, and grant writing. Resources for developmental biology courses and course-based research experiences were explored, including hands-on sessions with established and emerging model organisms.  Finally, while in Oregon, Dr. Wallingford had a full day of meetings with the University of Washington Placenta Research Network, an organization which she founded in 2016.