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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Premature Infant Gastrointestinal Health

nursing research

Premature infant birth is the most significant perinatal and neonatal health problem facing our nation. The March of Dimes estimates that approximately 12.7% of all infants are born premature. This number climbs to 18.1% of all black infants born in the United States. Unfortunately, the incidence of premature birth is on the rise: according to the March of Dimes, between 1995 and 2005 the number of premature births increased more than 15%.

Premature babies are at risk for several health issues as a result of being born too early. During the early neonatal period, infants born premature are at risk of infection, lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, neurological bleeding, and cardiovascular compromise. Long-term complications may include chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal problems leading to delayed growth and development, compromised neurodevelopment, and changes in visual acuity.

In conducting research on the premature infant patient population, we have the opportunity to make a difference over the entire lifetime of a person. While the findings of the research on prematurity will primarily help other infants born premature, what we learn will also teach us more about organ specific disease pathogenesis and disease prediction strategies. These findings have the potential to help broader populations of patients and their families.

Katherine Gregory, PhD, RN and her research team are working to solve some of the major clinical problems associated with premature birth, focusing primarily on premature gastrointestinal health and disease. Using novel technologies and disease prediction strategies, Dr. Gregory aims to better understand the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal disease in premature infants and develop new models of disease prediction for gastrointestinal disease, specifically necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). In turn, she aims to identify potential biomarkers for NEC that will provide neonatal clinicians new tools for early identification and diagnosis of this disease in premature infants.



Urinary Biomarkers of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
Assessing urinary biomarkers for NEC in a large, matched sample of premature infants.

Microbiome Aspects of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
Defining the intestinal microbiota in premature infants at risk for NEC.

Metabolomic Aspects of Necrotizing Enterocolitis
Applying metabolomic analysis to stool obtained from premature infants, in order to predict NEC.

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