What got you into research and this area?
I really like research and finding out new “stuff”, but I didn’t have a specific topic of interest when I was in college so I chose to go to medical school where I focused on clinical training.
I came to the University of Colorado for a fellowship in neonatology 10 years ago. I made a great connection with Dr. Hay who was doing research on placental function and the regulation of fetal growth. I became interested in intrauterine growth and found the lab work incredibly rewarding.
What was most compelling to me is that there is no treatment for intrauterine growth restriction, or “IUGR”; all we can do is observe and then deliver the baby prematurely. And while intrauterine growth restriction is not as dramatic of a problem for a neonatologist as some other conditions, it’s a problem in medicine where there’s no therapy or intervention action. So even if a women does all the right things during her pregnancy but the baby is not growing, all we can do is track what’s happening, try to measure how severe or mild the condition is, and then facilitate a premature birth if the baby is not really growing, which then results in multiple complications.
The way I saw it, why study a disease that already has a treatment. Why not really challenge myself and try to find a cure for something without a cure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to intervene, offer the mother some sort of treatment, so that her baby could grow normally, avoid being born premature, and avoid all the associated complications? This became the motivation behind my research.
And I am here at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus because this institution has been at the forefront of research in intrauterine growth restriction. A lot of the tracking has been pioneered here, and the university understands the fact that we don’t have any intervention at this point.
Why is this important?
In our country, approximately 4-8% of pregnancies are complicated by IUGR which means that in the United States over 200,000 babies are born each year following a pregnancy in which they did not get enough nutrients and did not grow well. These babies have many short term and long term problems, and in the most severe cases it can be fatal.
Women who were born with restricted growth are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease during their pregnancies. Diabetes or cardiovascular disease during a pregnancy will result in a baby that is similarly compromised, as their mother was. Then, this little baby girl will go on to have a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease as she reaches childbearing years. Then, her babies will be similarly compromised.
This, as you can see, creates a vicious cycle in mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and so on, that must be stopped.
What are your hopes and dreams for your research?
Given the major impact that diabetes and cardiovascular disease have on our overall health individually and as a community, I view breaking this vicious cycle as my most critical research endeavor—and my hopes for the future of my research.
In 20 years I would like the results of my research to have led to a therapy that we are able to offer women with intrauterine growth restriction that will allow them to maintain their pregnancy longer so they can deliver a healthy, normal weight baby. This will mean that baby will grow up healthy and will have healthy babies, breaking the cycle of disease.