Overview

In order to improve clinical care for preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), much more research is needed to examine long-term effects of neonatal early exposure to stressful events and treatments on brain development and later outcomes, particularly in those born very preterm; this work is necessary so that we can understand the etiology of neurodevelopmental problems which occur at high rates in these vulnerable children. My research program involves novel translational studies to advance the health and care of children born preterm. Precisely, I am leading studies to address the impact of early-life adversity such as stress, pain, inflammation, treatments and maternal separation, on the developing brain of very preterm infants. It is essential to first determine the mechanisms underlying the effects of early-stress exposure, such as pain-related changes, and to test novel mitigating treatments. Indeed, identifying brain-protective interventions with which to manage neonatal procedural pain are essential and is a major focus of my research.

Research

System interactions during early-life development
Using animal models to gain basic knowledge to better inform clinical studies in preterm infants, my lab examines the interactions between the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems during the critical period of early-life development, to prevent changes to the brain due to exposure to early-life stressors, and thereby improve outcomes.

Immune response to early repetitive pain and oral sucrose in the developing immature brain
Immune response to early repetitive pain and oral sucrose in the developing immature brain using a mice model that closely mimics NICU care. Here we are examining short and long-term effects of repeated exposure to pain and/or sucrose during the first week of life in mouse pups, through measures of pro/anti-inflammatory cytokines in serum and brain, as well as oxydative stress markers.

Identifying novel brain-protective interventions
Identifying novel brain-protective interventions with which to manage neonatal procedural pain is also a focus of the research conducted in the lab. One such intervention is oral melatonin.

Grants

“Determining the long-term metabolic effects of neonatal sucrose treatment (Pilot study).” Principal Investigator: Devlin A. & Soma K; Role: Co-Investigator; Agency: BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute - Healthy Starts Catalyst Grant; Period: 04/2017 – 05/2019

Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program Career Enhancement Program award (April 2014-2016)

Canadian Institute Health Research (CIHR) Postdoctoral Fellowship (May 2013-April 2016)

Fonds Recherche Quebec – Sante (FRQ-S) Postdoctoral Fellowship (May 2013-April 2015)

Honours & Awards

Distinction Award - Outstanding graduate student for excellence in medical research, Charles James Patton and Elizabeth Ross Patton Memorial Prize, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University (2007)