Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI)

Maron Laboratory

Dr. Jill Maron, MIRI Principal Investigator and Neonatologist at Tufts Children's HospitalJill L. Maron, MD, MPH is a Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts University School of Medicine and a neonatologist at Tufts Children's Hospital. Dr. Maron has discovered that the saliva from premature newborns contains a wealth of information about many of their developing systems, such as the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.

Dr. Maron is studying the genetic information within newborn saliva as a way of determining when a premature infant becomes ready to feed orally. Her research is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Charles Hood Foundation and the Gerber Foundation.

Focus of Maron Lab Research

The Maron Laboratory focuses its research efforts on exploring neonatal development, physiology and pathology through salivary gene expression analyses. Saliva is a rich source of genetic information that may be obtained repeatedly and safely from premature infants. Our group has garnered extensive expertise in neonatal salivary gene expression analyses and has developed novel techniques to obtain and process salivary samples from even our tiniest premature infants.

Currently, our laboratory is utilizing important gene expression information found in neonatal saliva to better understand oral feeding maturation in premature infants. Successful oral feeding is one of the most complex neurological tasks of the newborn. In order to safely feed by mouth, an infant must coordinate 26 pairs of muscles, five cranial nerve systems, and thoracic spinal cord segments involved in chest wall movements for coordination of respiration with feeding.

These complex interactive mechanisms are poorly understood, particularly in premature neonates who may have multiple co-morbidities limiting their attainment of feeding milestones. Through salivary gene expression analyses, we have identified key regulatory genes in saliva believed to be involved in oral feeding, including genes associated with satiety, feeding regulation, neurodevelopment, and oral musculature and innervation.

We aim to utilize this information to develop a point of care diagnostic platform to accurately and objectively predict successful oral feeding. By objectively identifying infants who are ready to attempt oral feeds, we will limit acute morbidities, such as choking and aspiration, and significantly improve neonatal care and outcomes.