Posted on Oct 28, 2016

USF nurse scientist to extend children’s research through NIH multimillion-dollar grant

USF nurse scientist to extend children’s research through NIH multimillion-dollar grant

Improving the lives of babies and children is Dr. Maureen Groer’s mission. These contributions are evident through her research that extends for decades.

To continue that mission, Dr. Groer recently received a significant award from National Institutes of Health (NIH) to extend her research on preterm infants and their gut microbiome. This grant is part of a $150 million award from NIH to launch a seven-year program called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO).

The program supports multiple research centers around the country to extend and expand their existing studies on mothers and their children. The research centers will allow investigators across the country to study environmental influences impact on the health of 50,000 children in the United States.

Dr. Groer will work on this grant with Akhil Masheshwari, MD, professor at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. They were selected as sub-awardees through the University of Chicago, which will lead the project with additional pediatric cohorts at the University of Chicago, University of California, San Diego and Harvard University. They’re funded for two years in the first phase of the grant, and will be eligible for additional funding for another five-years to study preterm born children as they enter school.

“The ECHO grant gives us the opportunity to look at pre-term babies and their microbiome, neurodevelopment and school readiness – until they turn five years old,” said Dr. Groer.

Dr. Maureen groer

In 2015, she received a $2.7 million grant from NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) to measure and evaluate preterm babies’ development, health and growth overtime.

“Our research is unique because we’re studying preterm infants,” said Dr. Groer. “These children are vulnerable. They’re immature and have abnormalities. Previous research shows that the gut microbiome has a direct relationship with brain neurochemistry, behavior, metabolism and the development of the immune system.”

This new research award allows Dr. Groer and her team to add the environmental component to study children’s living circumstances – where they live and who they live with. According to Dr. Groer, these factors may influence risk for neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

“We’re making a claim that a huge part of neurodevelopment is the environment,” said Dr. Groer. “So, when children turn 5 years old, they will go through neurodevelopmental tests to determine how ready they are for school.”

They will also look at poverty and geography, and study the environment by zip codes. “Their neighborhoods, the schools, playgrounds, and childcare options, will all come into the equation,” said Dr. Groer.

For related stories on Dr. Groer, click here.

Story by Vjollca Hysenlika 
Photos by Ryan Noone