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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 21, 2006

UI Team Receives Funding For Neonatal Anemia Research

Every year in the United States, 12 percent of babies are born prematurely. One of the most common medical problems for these infants is neonatal anemia -- a deficiency of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that leads to shortness of breath, inactivity and failure to thrive.

A team of University of Iowa researchers led by John Widness, M.D., professor of pediatrics in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, has received a five-year, $8.7 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to better understand, prevent and treat neonatal anemia. This award is the second renewal of the Program Project Grant for Neonatal Anemia: Pathophysiology and Treatment.

For this third funding period, Widness takes over as principal investigator from Ronald Strauss, M.D., UI professor of pathology and pediatrics. Strauss and Widness, together with Edward Bell, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics, and Donald Mock, M.D., Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, received the initial funds to study neonatal anemia in 1992. In addition to these original team members, the current team includes UI researchers Lynn Richman, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics; Peg Nopoulos, M.D., professor of psychiatry; and Peter Veng-Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutics in the UI College of Pharmacy. Ekhard Ziegler, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics, also contributed a major role in the second funding period with studies of nutrition and iron supplementation in premature infants.

The reasons for neonatal anemia and the best ways to prevent or treat it are not yet well understood. For at least three out of four very preterm infants and a significant number of larger infants, however, the problem is severe enough to require a blood transfusion.

In addition to investigating the underlying mechanisms of neonatal anemia, the current studies aim to refine traditional red blood cell transfusion treatment and assess the efficacy of transfusion and non-transfusion methods of treating and preventing neonatal anemia. The goal is to reduce the number of transfusions given to premature infants and to determine the best transfusion product to use when transfusions are necessary.

Widness and Mock will study red blood cell survival in the circulation. Veng-Pedersen will study the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of erythropoietin, a naturally occurring hormone used to treat anemia. Richman and Nopoulos will use neuropsychological tests and neuroimaging to study the long-term effects of neonatal anemia and transfusion treatment on premature infants. Their subjects are young teenagers who, as premature infants, participated in the earlier research studies funded under the program project grant.

"Neonatal anemia is a complex problem, requiring a multidisciplinary approach," Widness said. "Our research team combines a wide range of clinical and scientific expertise to answer the questions that will help us improve treatment for infants affected by this condition."

The team includes UI researchers from the Departments of Pediatrics, Pathology, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Psychiatry and Radiology in the Carver College of Medicine; the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Division of Pharmaceutics in the College of Pharmacy; and the Department of Biostatistics in the College of Public Health.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917

PHOTO: A photo of Dr. Widness is available at