USF College of Nursing receives $2.7 million NIH grant to study gut microbiome of preterm infants

Dr. Maureen Groer leads a group of USF Health researchers in a five-year study examining the connection between digestive tract microbes and health and development

Tampa, FL (June 18, 2015) –The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) has awarded more than $2.7 million to University of South Florida College of Nursing to study preterm infants’ gut microbiome and its effect on their growth and development.

Maureen Groer, PhD, Gordon Keller professor at USF College of Nursing, will lead a team of USF Health researchers to study “The preterm infant microbiome: Biological, behavioral and health outcomes at two and four years of age.” During this five-year research project, Dr. Groer and her team will study 100 low birth weight infants through age 4.

The microbiome is the DNA extracted from the population of bacteria and other microorganisms living in the human gut.

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Maureen Groer, PhD, Gordon Keller professor at USF College of Nursing, is principal investigator of the study analyzing stool samples over time to test for any links between microbes in the digestive tract and preterm infants’ growth and health outcomes.

The USF study will help measure and evaluate the preterm babies’ development, health and growth over time to discover if there is a direct relationship to the gut microbiome. The researchers will analyze preterm babies’ stool samples, collected for a previous NIH-funded study on feeding and health outcomes led by Dr. Groer. That earlier study examined stool samples obtained over the infants’ six-week stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). For the new study, researchers will collect more samples from these same infants at ages 2 and 4.

“The gut microbiome is in most cases established at three years old – except in those who may have an abnormal gut microbiome,” Dr. Groer said. “Previous research shows that the gut microbiome has a direct relationship with brain neurochemistry, behavior, metabolism and the development of the immune system. So, there is a variety of behavior, allergic and autoimmune diseases including Crohn’s disease, autism, diarrhea and obesity that may be related to disruption of the gut microbiome.”

Dr. Groer will conduct the study with a leading team of USF Health researchers including Terri Ashmeade, MD, associate professor at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and NICU director at Tampa General Hospital; Larry Dishaw, PhD, assistant professor at USF Pediatrics; Ming Ji, PhD, professor at USF Nursing; Kathleen Armstrong, PhD, professor at USF Pediatrics; and Elizabeth Miller, PhD, assistant professor at the USF Department of Anthropology.

The children’s microbiome samples will be measured at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) by Jack Gilbert, PhD, associate professor and environmental microbiologist at the ANL Department of Ecology and Evolution. Maternal stool samples will be analyzed in the USF College of Nursing’s state-of the-art bio-behavioral laboratory.

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The latest NIH study will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team of USF researchers from across nursing, medicine and anthropology.

According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm births affect one out of nine infants born in the United States. Preterm births are the number one cause of death in infants and the leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities and developmental health problems in children.

“We’re excited to lead the way in this research,” said Dianne Morrison-Beedy, PhD, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Nursing. “I’m proud to be part of a college that conducts research that makes life better for people locally, regionally and nationally.”

The study is supported by NINR, part of National Institute of Health (NIH). NINR helps promote and improve the health of individuals, families and communities. NINR is part of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers that support and conduct clinical and basic science research on health and illness. For more information about NIH and NINR visit www.ninr.nih.gov. 

-USF Health-
USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a global research university ranked 50th in the nation by the National Science Foundation for both federal and total research expenditures among all U.S. universities. For more information, visit www.health.usf.edu.

Media Contact:
Vjollca “V” Hysenlika, College of Nursing Communications
(813) 974-2017, or vhysenli@health.usf.edu