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Release Date: 06/03/2015

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has recently received a nearly $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for Perinatal Biology. Of the more than 100 COBREs across the country, Women & Infants is the only one specifically focused on developmental research. The IDeA program builds research capacities in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research; faculty development; and infrastructure improvements.

Under the leadership of James F. Padbury, MD, pediatrician-in-chief and chief of Neonatal/Perinatal Medicine at Women & Infants Hospital and the William and Mary Oh - William and Elsa Zopfi Professor of Pediatrics for Perinatal Research at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Surendra Sharma, MBBS, PhD, research scientist at Women & Infants and professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School, the COBRE team will continue its research in perinatal biology, including studies of fetal and newborn development, placental biology, and reproductive diseases including preterm birth and preeclampsia.

"Our projects are focused on critical windows of development and reproductive life. Environmental disturbance or other influences during these critical windows can have lasting effects," said Dr. Padbury. "Our overarching hypothesis is that understanding these effects during critical developmental periods informs the mechanisms of health and disease throughout life."

Work supported by the COBRE in Dr. Sharma's laboratory has identified novel new insights into the pregnancy disorder, preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension. "We have recently demonstrated that preeclampsia originates from protein misfolding and aggregation. This leads to disturbances in placental function and many of the mother's symptoms," explained Dr. Sharma. "Remarkably, transthyretin, the protein we have identified that is misfolded in preeclampsia, is also disturbed in some cases of Alzheimers disease. Our current work is focused on the mechanistic similarities between preeclampsia and Alzheimers disease and whether preeclampsia may be a risk factor for later development of Alzheimers."

Dr. Sharma and his colleagues are also working to develop a diagnostic test to confirm that preeclampsia can be identified much earlier in pregnancy. He said, "Identifying preeclampsia earlier will certainly lead to new and better treatments."

This is a Phase III award intended to consolidate the formation of the Center for Perinatal Biology and support the administrative activities of the Center. It will also provide state-of-the-art equipment to support the Center's Molecular Biology and Imaging Core. The Center and the COBRE researchers' laboratories are located in Providence's "Knowledge District" in the Kilguss Research Institute, the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine and the Coro Research building.

Other investigators include Sunil Shaw, PhD and Shibin Cheng, MD, PhD. Senior investigators also participating in the projects are Ulrike Mende, PhD; Walter Atwood, PhD; Qian Chen, PhD; Pamela Swiatek, PhD; and Karl Kelsey, MD.

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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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