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Release: April 23, 1999

UI receives $7.3 million to continue neonatal anemia study

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa has received $7.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to continue a study of neonatal anemia for the next five years.

The latest funding is a competitive renewal of support that the UI originally received six years ago from the NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Ronald Strauss, M.D., professor of pathology and pediatrics, leads the UI team investigating the pathophysiology and treatment of the anemia in premature infants. The UI researchers want to study the mechanisms underlying this anemia. Ultimately, the investigators want to establish the best way to treat anemic pre-term infants.

Anemia is a condition involving a decrease in blood's oxygen-transporting ability -- specifically a deficiency of red blood cells. Anemia in infants is characterized by inactivity, shortness of breath, apnea, poor feeding, failure to grow and the need for transfusions.

Almost all infants born weighing less than 2 pounds will develop anemia severe enough to require blood transfusions, Strauss said. The problem is caused by multiple, interacting factors, but researchers are unclear about many of the exact details. Because these tiny babies failed to survive until recently, many questions still are unanswered and treatment is controversial.

The UI investigation involves three projects. One focuses on the metabolism and pharmacology of erythropoietin, the primary growth factor that causes bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Another project seeks to understand iron and protein nutrition and their roles in red blood cell production. The third project is a clinical investigation involving transfusion of the baby's placental blood either by delayed clamping of the umbilical cord, which allows more blood to flow into the baby's system at birth, or by collecting the placental blood then later transfusing it back to the infant. The researchers want to establish whether using placental blood will improve a newborn's condition.

The UI's proven track record was key to the NIH's renewal of the project. In the first six years, the investigators contributed to recommendations for usage of erythropoietin to treat anemic preemies, developed a technique to mark red blood cells with biotin to study red blood cell kinetics, determined how and when to transfuse babies, and developed blood banking techniques to improve transfusion practices.

In addition to Strauss, the other UI co-principal investigators include: John Widness, M.D., professor of pediatrics; Peter Veng-Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutics; Leon Burmeister, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine and environmental health; Edward Bell, M.D., professor of pediatrics; and Ekhard Ziegler, M.D., professor of pediatrics. There are a number of other important co-investigators from the UI and other medical centers participating in these studies as well.