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Perinatal Research Center - Research

The Perinatal Research Center (PRC) is the longest standing research and educational program at the University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus. Faculty who conduct studies at the Center are on the leading edge of research in maternal, placental, and fetal physiology.

The PRC is supported by nationally competitive grants, largely from the NIH, as well as the Section of Neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics. Other participating research and educational programs include the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Basic Science (Jansson and Powell) and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program, the Laboratory for Lung Development (Grayck, Stenmark), and the Friedman Laboratory in developmental biochemistry and nutrition.

Research at the PRC primarily involves reproductive and developmental physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Fetal physiology research is conducted in pregnant sheep, an internationally recognized standard model for studying maternal, placental, and fetal physiology. The principal aims of the fetal sheep research are to better understand the processes involved in fetal growth and development and the mechanisms that regulate such growth and development under normal and pathological conditions (Rozance, Brown, Wesolowski, Wright, Hay). Additionally, the studies of fetal growth provide a greater understanding of how aberrant fetal growth can lead to poor reproductive outcome (such as intrauterine growth restriction), neonatal disease (such as neonatal respiratory diseases, including respiratory distress syndrome, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and persistent pulmonary hypertension), and adult disorders that have their origins during fetal life (such as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease). The PRC also includes a small animal (mouse) facility, which currently supports research into the role of inflammation and oxygen toxicity in producing pulmonary vascular injury and related disorders such as persistent pulmonary hypertension and bronchopulmonary dysplasia as well us understanding the link between inflammation and metabolism in the perinatal period (Wright, Delaney, Sherlock, Rozance).

Faculty Research Interests

Dr. Laura Brown’s research goals are to improve the muscle growth of the fetus during a pregnancy affected by intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). The main question she hopes to answer is why muscle fails to grow properly even into adulthood after exposure to IUGR. By exploring the cellular mechanisms that control fetal muscle growth and development in IUGR, we will better understand why there are persistent abnormalities in muscle growth during childhood and adulthood. Furthermore, these findings will guide the development of nutritional strategies during pregnancy and early childhood to improve muscle growth and prevent the development of lifelong diseases.

Dr. Cassidy Delaney’s research goals are to identify novel mechanisms that contribute to pulmonary hypertension in newborns. Her scientific focus is the role of platelet-derived serotonin in the development of pulmonary vascular remodeling and pulmonary hypertension. By exploring novel cellular mechanisms involved in aberrant pulmonary vascular development she hopes to provide the foundation for expansion of available pharmacologic therapies for newborns with respiratory failure complicated by pulmonary hypertension.

Dr. William Hay, Jr.’s basic research has been supported by NIH-funded grants to study various aspects of placental and fetal growth restriction, with specific attention to placental nutrient transfer and metabolism, fetal insulin secretion, and fetal insulin action. His research is aimed at understanding how disturbances in maternal nutrient supply to the placenta and fetus produce adaptations in fetal development that, while successful for fetal survival, could underlie later life disorders such as obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. His clinical research through the Colorado Clinical Translational Research Center focuses on early postnatal nutrition of the extremely low birth weight infant. Specific studies have helped to determine optimal amounts and mixtures of amino acids in intravenous solutions to promote early and optimal growth of body weight and composition in preterm infants and thus to prevent postnatal growth restriction. Dr. Hay’s clinical research also focuses on neonatal glucose disorders, particularly hypo- and hyperglycemia. He also is an expert in the application of pulse oximetry to monitor blood oxygenation in newborn infants.

Dr. Randall Wilkening’s research activities include placental transfer and function; fetal metabolic responses to placental dysfunction; and fetal organ blood flow and metabolism.

Dr. Clyde J. Wright's research goals are to understand the signaling pathways that link oxidant and inflammatory stress to abnormal lung development in the premature lung resulting in bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD is the most common morbidity affecting premature infants, and increases the risk of long-term respiratory morbidities, neurodevelopmental impairment and death. Therefore, developing therapeutic interventions to prevent BPD remains of utmost importance. Through a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the innate immune response to stressors encountered in the perinatal period, we hope to uncover therapeutic targets to prevent neonatal lung injury and abnormal development.

Dr. Stephanie Wesolowski’s research goals are to understand how altered nutrient supply programs fetal metabolism and how this increases susceptibility to adult metabolic disease. Her primary research is aimed to determine the effects of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) in a sheep model using integrative approaches in physiology and metabolism combined with novel molecular techniques in cell biology, epigenetics, and metabolomics. Current studies are investigating the mechanisms for the early activation of fetal hepatic glucose production and development of hepatic insulin resistance, specifically the role of reduced glucose versus oxygen supply to the fetus, both key features of placental insufficiency and resulting IUGR. This is important in understanding why IUGR offspring have increased susceptibility to diabetes across their lifespan. She also is involved in collaborative projects investigating the effects of maternal high fat diet and obesity on offspring metabolism on development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Her research program is supported by NIH funding.​