Neonatology Division Research

The Division of Neonatology and Department of Pediatrics identified research in pulmonary hypertension and vascular biology as a priority area and the research program was established under the direction of Dr. G. Ganesh Konduri. This research is currently conducted at the Children's Research Institute since he is no longer under the Medical College of Wisconsin Cardiovascular Research Center.

Dr. Adeleye Afolayan’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms that modulate mitochondrial oxidative stress in persistent pulmonary hypertension in the newborn (PPHN). SOD2 is the gatekeeper in the mitochondrial matrix that removes the damaging superoxide radical. The ability of stress-inducible heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) to target SOD2 to the mitochondria, places the chaperone in a pivotal point in the regulation of mitochondrial oxidative stress. Our lab is using basic science approach to understand the mechanisms by which hsp70-mediated import of SOD2 into the mitochondria is regulated using the fetal lamb model.

Dr. Mir Basir believes that the best patient outcomes are achieved when parents are involved in the medical care of their child. Most parents have little knowledge about diseases and problems of newborn infants. Having a sick newborn is stressful for the parents. Easy to understand and reliable information about their child’s medical problem and expected health outcomes decreases parental stress. The goal of Dr. Basir’s research is to empower and encourage parents to be involved in their child’s medical care. He plans to achieve this goal by making medical information easier for parents to understand, overcome barriers that limit parental access to their child’s hospital medical records, encourage parents to participate in morning rounds and improve doctor-parent communication. These interventions will help parents become better advocates for their child.

Dr. Gary Cohen teaches medical education research to the medical students and pediatric residents and conducts quality assurance projects in Froedtert Hospital’s Newborn Nursery.

Dr. Joanne Lagatta performs clinical research on health care utilization for infants after NICU discharge. She has a master’s degree in epidemiology and health services research from the University of Chicago, and has published several papers using large datasets to study neonatal outcomes. She is currently conducting two prospective studies examining the relationships between NICU illness severity, parent quality of life, and subsequent health care utilization.

Dr. Akiko Mammoto's lab is interested in the role of angiogenesis in organ development, regeneration, and pathology and focuses on the following projects. (1) The role of angiogenesis in lung regeneration: We are trying to understand the mechanism by which endothelial cells control lung development and regeneration using multidisciplinary approaches. In particular, we focus on Wnt and the related signaling pathways (e.g. Twist1 and Yap1) using transgenic animal models. (2) Mechanism of age-dependent decline in angiogenesis: We are investigating the molecular mechanism by which aging inhibits lung vascular and alveolar morphogenesis. In addition to soluble growth factors, biophysical factors such as changes in cell size, ECM stiffness, stretching forces, and flow control endothelial cell growth and differentiation. Thus, we also focus on the mechanosensitive mechanism of age-related decline in angiogenesis using various in vitro systems and transgenic animal models. Since it has been known that the common signaling pathways are involved in age-related lung diseases and neonatal lung developmental disorders, this work has potential to develop efficient strategies for neonatal lung and heart diseases. (3) Pulmonary hypertension: We investigate the role of endothelial signaling in vascular smooth muscle cell behaviors. We focus on Twist1 which is upregulated in the lungs of patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension and study the mechanism by which endothelial Twist1 and the related genes control smooth muscle cell behaviors using in vitro assays, an in vivo pulmonary hypertension model, and transgenic animal models.

Dr. Kris Saudek does Medical Education Research. Past projects include piloting Team-Based Learning on the pediatric clerkship and implementing a hand-over curriculum for third year medical students. Current projects include predictors of resident success and a study on letters of recommendation. She also mentors pediatric residents on a variety of QI and medical education research projects. Clinically, she has recently piloted a SCAMPS in the newborn nursery studying late preterm feeding.

Dr. Ru-Jeng Teng has published several papers about biological function of Nogo-B receptor on pulmonary vasculature and liver. He demonstrated Nogo-B receptor deficiency not only impairs endothelial cell function but also promotes pulmonary vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation both of which contribute to the phenotype of pulmonary hypertension in infants. His also contributes to the finding that Nogo-B deficiency leads to hepatic steatosis. His recent work is focused on how oxidative stress affects endoplasmic reticulum function in lungs and how Nogo-B receptor modulates endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondrial function in vascular endothelial cells. He obtained 2016 CTSI Pilot Initiative Grant for his work.

Dr. Michael Uhing is involved in all Quality Improvement and Patient Safety initiatives involving the NICU. Along with the help of two research nurses, he maintains Children’s Wisconsin’s participation in the Vermont Oxford Database, the Children’s Neonatal Database (CND) through the Children’s Neonatal Consortium (CNC), and the Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Database. In addition, he maintains an internal NICU clinical database to support internal clinical research and quality improvement projects. His primary clinical interests are nutritional and respiratory support of critically ill infants.

Dr. Scott Welak received his Neonatology Fellowship Training at the Medical College of Wisconsin/Children’s Wisconsin. His research focuses on understanding the pathophysiology of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). This disease, which occurs in 10% of babies born less than 1.5 kg, causes significant mortality and morbidity among premature infants. Dr. Welak studies how breast-milk provides protection against this disease. He has shown that human breast milk causes an increase in NADPH Oxidase-1 (NOX1) activity in the neonatal intestine. This enzyme may help with intestinal wound healing and reducing inflammation. Dr. Welak has both basic science and translational research projects, and collaborates with the Pediatric Surgeons at Children's Wisconsin on several studies.