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The Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI) currently centers its research on three topics of current clinical, public health and economic significance:
During pregnancy, a mother’s overall health, as well as the in utero environment, help shape a baby’s health and future wellbeing. In particular, the fetal brain is undergoing a complicated, yet beautifully orchestrated, developmental construction. Disruption to this development could result in life-long health problems. In fact, many childhood neurological disorders have their roots in fetal life.
At MIRI, investigators are studying the basic mechanisms of fetal neurological disorders and are developing new diagnostic technologies and treatment strategies that could help improve future neurodevelopmental outcomes. Utilizing high-resolution state-of-the-art fetal brain imaging technologies and cutting-edge gene expression analysis methods that can be safely used for the living human fetus, investigators at MIRI hope to advance knowledge of fetal brain development and integrate safe fetal treatments to improve the overall and lifelong wellbeing of children.
Salivary diagnostics is a rapidly emerging field aimed at integrating the latest technological advancements to deliver accurate, noninvasive testing platforms into clinical care. Such platforms are ideal for vulnerable newborns, in whom invasive procedures are prohibitive, particularly because repeated blood sampling exaggerates anemia and increases the need for blood transfusions.
Saliva is a rich source of proteins, genetic material (DNA and RNA), microbes, electrolytes and other biomarkers that may be monitored repeatedly without inflicting trauma to infants. Developing salivary diagnostic assays for the neonatal population provides an innovative approach to monitoring aberrant development, infection, and systemic disease.
Maternal obesity is a major public health crisis that has emerged over the past 20 years. Currently, 1 in 3 pregnant women in the United States is obese. Maternal obesity results in higher rates of cesarean section, higher rates of infant birth defects and a three-fold higher incidence of neonatal death. Babies born to obese mothers, even if born at a normal weight, are predisposed to obesity and metabolic dysregulation through the lifespan.. Recent data from NICHD suggests that excessive weight gain in pregnancy, regardless of pre-pregnancy BMI, also predisposes to hypertension, preeclampsia, and infant cardiac defects.
The enormous amount of new knowledge generated by the Human Genome Project and the rapid advancement of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies have created new opportunities to advance the clinical care of pregnant women and their newborns. There is a need, however, to develop safer, more accurate, and more cost effective prenatal testing, as well as to develop new treatments that can begin in the womb, by giving pregnant women medications that are targeted for their fetuses. In addition, analysis of gene expression can determine the functional stage of maturity for a premature baby, which can lead to personalized diagnosis and therapy in the NICU, as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach that is currently used.
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