Fetal Health Foundation Awards $50,000 to Researcher Working on Pulmonary Diseases

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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pulmonary disease and infants

The Fetal Health Foundation (FHF) awarded this year’s Brianna Marie Memorial Research Grant to Dr. Jan Deprest, a specialist in congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a life-threatening condition in infants caused by a birth defect in which the diaphragm does not form completely, creating a hole in the muscle between the chest and the abdomen.

With the $50,000 grant, Dr. Deprest and his team will work toward preventing CDH, which can lead to pulmonary hypoplasia (incomplete development of the lungs) and pulmonary hypertension.

Dr. Deprest, with the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven in Belgium and the University College of London Institute for Women’s Health in the United Kingdom, and his team believe that CDH management lies in combining currently available postnatal treatments with prenatal strategies.

Dr. Jan Deprest

Dr. Jan Deprest and his research team. (Courtesy: Fetal Health Foundation)

“Despite the progress in neonatology, too many newborns die due to respiratory insufficiency and pulmonary hypertension, and many others suffer significant pulmonary disease,” Deprest said in a news release, noting that 30 percent of newborns with CDH die of pulmonary complications. “With this research grant, we will continue to investigate the efficacy of maternally-administered sildenafil, a drug that selectively vasodilates the pulmonary arteries, to prevent pulmonary hypertension in newborns with CDH.”

Dr. Deprest is well-known for his work into tracheal occlusion techniques and equipment that intervene to allow sufficient in-utero lung development to sustain life after birth. Under his guidance, a number of U.S. medical centers received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study the use of fetoscopic endoluminal tracheal occlusion (FETO), a surgery done on a fetus showing signs of severe CDH to improve survival chances after birth.

“It’s exciting to see the groundbreaking work that is occurring in the field of fetal health medicine,” Dalia El-Prince, executive director of FHF, said of this year’s applicants for the award. “Choosing just one study to fund was difficult. Ultimately, our hope is to assist Dr. Deprest’s team in taking his study to the next level to overcome this devastating birth defect and spare its monumental emotional toll.”

The Brianna Marie Memorial Research Grant supports interdisciplinary research with the aim of improving the health outcomes for pregnancies and infants affected by various fetal syndromes, with a particular interest in fetal lung syndromes. More about the grant program is available through this link, and applications for 2017 will be accepted in the spring.

Established in 2014 with a donation and continuing support from the Brianna Marie Foundation, the grant honors Brianna Marie Hissam, born March 16, 2012 with a diagnosis of fetal hydrops; she only lived 15 hours. (Fetal hydrops is a serious fetal condition caused by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in two or more fetal compartments, including ascites, pleural effusion, pericardial effusion, and skin edema.)

The FHF, founded in 2006, is a non-profit charity that provides medical information on fetal syndromes, unconditional support to families dealing with these syndromes, advocacy and awareness, and offers research grants  to fund new treatments and technologies in this area.