Promoting healthy brain development for pre-term babies

GisslenFetal inflammatory response syndrome (FIRS) is a severe immune reaction that occurs in many pre-term babies. It results in higher rates of newborn mortality and morbidity and can lead to long-term neurodevelopmental disability.

With Masonic support, Tate Gisslen, M.D., part of the U’s pediatrics faculty, is working to identify and disrupt the brain pathways that link FIRS to worse neurodevelopment for babies born prematurely due to chorioamnionitis, a placental and amniotic fluid infection.

Gisslen’s team is currently examining how FIRS changes the function of brain immune cells called microglia and how these changes impact brain development. They have identified pathways in microglia that could potentially be targeted to stop these interactions and hope to soon prove that blocking these pathways will improve neurologic outcomes.

In addition to helping infants born prematurely due to chorioamnionitis, this work could impact the treatment of other newborn brain injuries. Microglia are thought to contribute to the development of encephalopathy and stroke, and to certain mental illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia.

“Masonic support is impactful because better understanding neuro-immune function at early ages will lead to cures for many devastating problems that affect children for a lifetime.”

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