Grant Awarded to Study Cause of Cerebral Palsy, Chronic Lung Disease, and Developmental Delays in Infants

Researchers aim to study how infections of the fetal membranes during pregnancy can increase risks for a number of serious newborn diseases.

PHILADELPHIA -- For their work to improve patient outcomes for newborns, four researchers at Nemours and Jefferson were selected to receive Jefferson’s Pediatric Award for Clinical Research, as part of an ongoing partnership between Nemours duPont Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the Jefferson Clinical Research Institute at Thomas Jefferson University.

The partners are pleased to announce that the application entitled “DNA methylation, gene expression and trained immunity in neonates born to mothers with chorioamnionitis,” was selected to receive funding of $50,000. The study seeks to better understand the mechanisms through which chorioamnionitis, an infection of fetal membranes, causes an increased risk for chronic lung disease, allergies, asthma, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy. The awarded researchers include: Nemours neonatologist Zubair Aghai, MD, who is also a professor of pediatrics at Jefferson, together with Huda Al-Kouatly, MD, director of Reproductive Genetics and Prenatal Ultrasound at Jefferson,  Sankar Addya, PhD, Technical Manager, Cancer Genomics Laboratory, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health, and Joanna Chan, MD, associate professor, Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Approximately 500,000  to one million mothers with chorioamnionitis give birth each year in the United States. Determining the mechanism of action of this infection is an essential step toward preventing the chronic health risks associated with this infection. The investigative team hypothesize that chorioamnionitis interferes with normal signaling pathways by inciting changes in DNA methylation of affected newborns. To test this idea, the investigators will measure methylation and gene expression in fetal cord blood in both preterm and full-term infants.

The Jefferson Pediatric Award for Clinical Research represents an initiative of the Jefferson Pediatric Department, Nemours DuPont Hospital for Children, and the Jefferson Clinical Research Institute to promote cross-campus (Nemours and TJU) interdepartmental research. This funding mechanism will catalyze initiatives between Pediatrics and other departments to form the basis of research studies funded through external (federal, foundation, or industry) granting mechanisms.

The inaugural year for this exciting opportunity saw many highly competitive applications.  Due to this initial success, applications for the next round of funding will be accepted in fall 2019.

“This is a big step in leveraging our existing relationship with Nemours for research opportunities,” says  Brian Squilla, Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief of Staff for the Provost at Jefferson.

Claire Chenault, Project Manager