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Release Date: 10/25/2018

Melissa Russo, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine and clinical genetics specialist in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, has recently received a $100,000, two-year grant through The Marfan Foundation Grant Program to study the risk factors associated with cardiovascular and obstetric complications in pregnancy among women with a genetic predisposition to aortic dissection. Dr. Russo is the director of Prenatal Genetics at Women & Infants’ Prenatal Diagnosis Center.

Aortic dissection is a life-threatening event in which a tear develops in the inner layers of the aorta, allowing blood to flow through, separating (or dissecting) the inner and middle layers of the aorta. With a dissection in the wall, the blood vessel is weakened and there is a risk for aortic rupture, which can be deadly. The aorta is the main blood vessel from the heart that supplies blood to the entire body. Individuals with genetic conditions such as Marfan syndrome and Loeys-Dietz syndrome are at higher risk than the general population to develop an aortic aneurysm, enlargement of the vessel, and aortic dissection.

“Marfan syndrome is a genetic condition that affects the blood vessels, skeleton, and connective tissues, and these individuals are at risk for aortic dissection. We know that pregnancy in women with Marfan syndrome and related conditions is a high-risk time for aortic dissection, but many of these women, with a prenatal multi-disciplinary care team, can have a successful pregnancy,” said Dr. Russo. “Currently, we cannot predict who will have a successful pregnancy versus a catastrophic event during pregnancy because the risk factors for aortic dissection during pregnancy are not well understood. We are seeking to address this knowledge gap by building a multi-center database for reproductive and pregnancy outcomes in women with a genetic predisposition for aortic dissection. Our long-term goal is to continue this work and build a nationwide database.”

In pregnancy, there is twice as much blood pumping and the heart is working harder to pump the blood around the body. These physiological changes in pregnancy put women with genetic predisposition for aortic aneurysm and dissection at risk for development of these problems during pregnancy. There is currently limited information to predict which of these women will have healthy successful pregnancies and which will have complications in pregnancy. Dr. Russo’s research aims to identify risk factors for poor outcomes in pregnancy and improve the ability to predict a woman’s outcome in a future pregnancy based on these risk factors.

Dr. Russo is also an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a member of Care New England Medical Group. She was recently added as a member of the GenTAC Alliance, a community of stakeholders committed to advancing understanding of genetic thoracic aortic diseases and their treatment. The Alliance builds upon the successes of the GenTAC Registry, which enrolled and followed participants from 2006 to 2016 and seeks to involve a much wider group of stakeholders and be more expansive in scope.

Dr. Russo is available to see men, women, or children with a suspected or known connective tissue disorder. She also performs pre-conception and pregnancy genetic consultations at Women & Infants’ Prenatal Diagnosis Center. Appointments may be made at (401) 274-1122, ext. 47096.

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About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. A major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the 9th largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country and the largest in New England with approximately 8,500 deliveries per year. A Designated Baby-Friendly® USA hospital, U.S.News & World Report 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospital in Neonatology and a 2014 Leapfrog Top Hospital, in 2009 Women & Infants opened what was at the time the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation’s first mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiography; a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.
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