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Member, Brain Research Institute, Cell & Developmental Biology GPB Home Area, Neuroscience GPB Home Area
My research has been focused on improving the health of neonates requiring intensive care, either those born prematurely or low birthweight. There are a number of conditions that affect the long-term outcomes of these neonates, including both intrauterine and extrauterine postnatal factors. My previous work (including my K08) was focused on placental insufficiency as a main contributor to developmental programming of cardiovascular disease. I have worked with murine models over the last nine years at UCLA and prior during my fellowship training years to study mechanisms underlying endothelial reprogramming after adverse exposures. My interest in vascular physiology and biology was bridged with placental insufficiency in the recent study of epithelial membrane protein-2 (EMP2) and its role in murine placentation and reproduction.
In my R01 grant (awarded May 2021), my co-investigators and I studied EMP2 in a completely novel context of retinopathy of prematurity, another disease that contributes significantly to long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes of ex-premature infants. This disease can be devastating and lead to blindness in severe cases, affecting neonates both individually in their life trajectory, but also contributing to significant public health cost. EMP2 has never been studied in ROP, and would be a novel therapeutic target. Our preliminary data (published in IOVS 2020) demonstrates that Emp2 genetic knock-out mice are protected from neovascularization in a murine model of oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR), and Emp2 appears to modulate disease via alteration of angiogenic signaling [downregulation of hypoxia inducible factor 1-alpha (Hif1a) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)] from the neuroretina.
In the long term, my career objective is to contribute to the understanding of vascular mechanisms of diseases affecting premature and low birth weight neonates, bridging my training in scientific research and my capabilities as a neonatologist and clinician, to improve the longterm outcomes of these neonates. My long-term goal is to contribute to improvement of maternal and neonatal outcomes and to help build the next generation of physician scientists. To accomplish these goals, I am collaborating with scientists with expertise in angiogenesis and vascular disease, retinal function and disease, epidemiology and biostatistics, genomics and advanced imaging in order to optimize a multidisciplinary team approach using novel paradigms and cutting-edge techniques. In studying retinopathy of prematurity, I brought bench techniques and knowledge back to the bedside to improve outcomes for premature infants.