Our lab’s research goals have been to investigate the developmental and nutritional regulation of red blood cell production. This research is important because anemia complicates the clinical care of nearly 30,000 premature neonates in the US annually and effective strategies for combating anemia must be developed. Ill premature neonates develop severe anemia, requiring multiple red blood cell transfusions. Erythropoietin, the primary endocrine hormone stimulating red blood cell production, is deficient in premature neonates. The drug, erythropoietin, although effective in adult patients, is less so in premature neonates. Our research seeks to determine why erythropoietin therapy is so ineffective in premature infants.
Our research approach is three-pronged:
- First, we are investigating the interactions of iron and erythropoietin in at-risk neonatal and infant erythropoiesis. Delivery of sufficient iron is critical to red blood cell production. Unlike other patient populations, in early infancy, no marker of poor iron delivery exists and we are examining several options. We are studying the biomarkers to identify those with low iron status.
- Second, we are studying the non-erythropoietic effects of iron deficiency because iron is critical to all organ development. We are studying both brain and kidney development.
- Third, we are investigating the non-traditional roles of erythropoietin. Erythropoietin is an iron-regulated protein, including in early development. In early development, we are exploring whether erythropoietin’s erythropoietic role is relatively less important than its other roles. Because erythropoietin exerts local effects, we are examining the effects of erythropoietin in other tissues (e.g. intestine and brain).