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Safety of IV nutrition focus of Gerber Foundation grant to MCW pediatrician

Oct. 22, 2013 College News - A Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) researcher who practices pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is using a grant from The Gerber Foundation to study intravenous nutrition in an effort to make it safer for babies who need the sustenance.

Intravenous (IV) nutrition is one of the most common therapies provided to premature and critically ill newborn infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. Although it is essential for survival and growth in these children, liver damage is a known complication of prolonged use. This affects as many as 85 percent of children requiring long-term IV nutrition, and the consequences can be severe, irreversible and even fatal.

Researchers believe intravenous lipid, a component of the IV nutrition that provides essential calories and fatty acids, conversely contributes to the development of liver disease. All IV lipids in the United States are based from soybean oil and are rich with plant sterols, which are naturally occurring molecules that are similar to cholesterol in humans. An over-accumulation of plant sterols, however, can be toxic.

The $130,000 contribution from The Gerber Foundation will secure resources to advance the research of T. Hang Nghiem-Rao, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology), which seeks to determine if high concentrations of plant sterols lead to an increased risk for liver disease and growth failure in infants receiving IV nutrition.

“Dr. Nghiem-Rao’s training and background are ideally suited to this project, and she has assembled a strong mentorship team that reflects her multidisciplinary approach to sterol metabolism in intravenous nutrition,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD, Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President of MCW. “We appreciate The Gerber Foundation’s recognition of the promise this research holds for pediatric health.”

Dr. Nghiem-Rao’s study will factor in age, length of therapy and body composition. Her research team will also examine the genes associated with the ability to process and eliminate excess plant sterols. The research will incorporate tissue bank samples or animal models along with data from participating patients. Overall, the project will improve doctors’ understanding of the mechanisms that underlie sterol metabolism.

“From this, we may discover new ways to assess liver injury, growth, nutrient utilization and predisposition for future cardiovascular disease that could be used to guide nutritional therapy,” Dr. Nghiem-Rao said. “Most importantly, this research may offer opportunities to improve the composition and safety of IV nutrition, ultimately improving the health of infants who depend on it for survival.”

Based in Michigan, The Gerber Foundation aims to enhance the quality of life of infants and young children in nutrition, care and development. It was established in 1952.

“Often, we institute practices for the benefit of the infant that may also create a risk,” said Catherine A. Obits, Program Manager for The Gerber Foundation. “This study—looking at the effects of a fat emulsion used to promote growth that may also lead to liver damage in the infant—fits well with the Foundation’s desire to look at environmental hazards, even well-intentioned practices, to evaluate the level of risk that it creates for the infant.”

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Page Updated 10/22/2013