Meeting the challenges of preterm birth

A Lens magazine special issue

Bill Snyder
Published: June, 2010

Josie Pereira Ortiz is comforted by her mother Mercedes in the NICU at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Photo by John Russell

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have been pioneers in the treatment of premature and critically ill infants for nearly 50 years.

Mildred Stahlman, M.D., is credited with setting up the nation’s first newborn intensive care unit to use monitored respiratory therapy on infants with damaged lungs at Vanderbilt in the 1960s. She and her colleagues continue to seek ways to improve treatment of breathing problems in newborns.

Others at Vanderbilt are:

-- Seeking clues to an often-fatal gastrointestinal problem that affects many premature babies;

-- Investigating alternatives to surgery to repair a common heart problem in babies born too early.

Through the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care, Vanderbilt is also sharing ways to improve the care of its tiniest patients.

Ultimately, however, premature labor must be stopped before it starts. Researchers at Vanderbilt are working with colleagues around the world to determine how genetic factors and hormonal imbalances may disrupt the “clock” that sets birth timing.

“Prematurity ... really shapes the health of an individual for a lifetime, even their overall longevity,” says Louis Muglia, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair for Research Affairs in Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics. “This provides one of the great opportunities for thinking about an important biologic question and having discovery that provides the greatest long-term impact.”

This online-only special issue of Lens magazine is published in conjunction with On Their Way, a publication of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Some of the research discussed here will also be featured on the next installment of the Nashville Public Television series, “Children’s Health Crisis,” scheduled for broadcast at 8 p.m., CDT, on June 24.

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