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NIH Sequencing Study begins at St. David’s Medical Center NICU

AUSTIN, Texas—A NIH study at St. David’s Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit seeks to evaluate how steroids affect the developing neonatal brain.

Anthony C Rudine, MD, MBA in collaboration with Donald DeFranco, PhD at the University of Pittsburgh has been granted USD 1.3M in funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to better understand the effects of synthetic glucocorticoids (sGCs) on the neurodevelopment of adult offspring. The development of sGCs has greatly reduced many of the complications associated with premature birth (~12% of pregnancies), including respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH). However, a number of adverse neuropsychiatric consequences of therapeutic antenatal sGCs have been observed in humans and rodents. Dr. Rudine and DeFranco aim to identify novel biomarkers that are associated with the adverse neurodevelopment effects of antenatal sGCs in infants.

This research builds upon DeFranco’s earlier work on the effects of prenatal drug exposure on glucocorticoid (GC) signaling and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. He found that prenatal exposure to exogenous sGCs lead to alterations in cerebral architecture and other neurodevelopmental outcomes.

In order to identify potential biomarkers for neuropsychiatric conditions, cord blood and placental tissue specimens are collected after the delivery of the baby and include umbilical cord blood and placental specimens. These samples are subsequently analyzed and measured for RNA, DNA, and protein molecules. The activation or synthesis of certain biomolecules in umbilical cord and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders in an individual later on in life could indicate a correlation between the two and provide an early warning sign for treatment.

The work being conducted at St. David’s Medical Center NICU, and the University of Pittsburg Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology may one day enable the doctors of tomorrow to take preventative measures in treating neuropsychiatric conditions, such as anxiety disorder, before they manifest.