Spreading Our Wings
Laying the groundwork for neonatal sepsis research to take off
A researcher establishes a lab model for studies that could lead to healthier futures for premature babies
Neonatal sepsis is a blood infection that affects a high number of premature babies. Researchers already know that having sepsis at birth can result in developmental delays for children, while having low iron at birth predisposes them to chronic conditions such as cognitive deficits, cardiovascular disease, hypertension or diabetes later in life. Still unknown is how infection and low iron may be connected as part of a bigger puzzle.
“We wanted to know the effect of iron deficiency in combination with neonatal sepsis on the short-term and long-term health of the offspring,” says researcher and WCHRI postdoctoral fellowship awardee Forough Jahandideh. She is digging deeper into the issue in an effort to give babies the best chance for healthy futures.
The goal of her lab work is to eventually apply early treatments while the baby is still in the critical time period of development after birth and, ultimately, prevent chronic diseases from happening in adulthood.
Jahandideh was the primary driver behind this new stream of studies on the relationship between neonatal iron deficiency and sepsis, alongside supervisor Stephane Bourque in the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine. In Bourque’s lab, students were already examining various pieces of the iron deficiency puzzle, including diagnosis, treatment and its developmental effects.
After starting work on the sepsis-iron deficiency project, they found that the existing animal lab model for neonatal sepsis wasn’t useful when it came to reproducibility, which is needed for quality research.
They subsequently put a lot of emphasis on getting the lab model right, not only for their own studies, but potentially for use by many others who are doing research into the impact of other early life stressors.
“Even with all the efforts and all the good work that each individual lab has done, not all studies are reproducible or can eventually benefit patients,” says Jahandideh. “We were trying to see how we could help solve that, so that any data that is generated in a lab setting is useful and can hopefully be translated later for patients.”
Over the course of her postdoctoral work, Jahandideh succeeded in developing both a new animal lab model of sepsis and a scoring system to monitor neonatal animal health over time, laying the groundwork for other students in Bourque’s lab who are continuing with studies into neonatal sepsis and iron deficiency.
Jahandideh herself has gone on to start a position as a clinical research associate at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, where she continues to study sepsis and hone in on the quality of research as part of the National Preclinical Sepsis Platform — a network dedicated to improving preclinical models of sepsis.
She says that support from WCHRI has been fundamental to her success, mentioning professional development opportunities, meeting new people, and support with grant applications as some of the ways the Institute helped her career flourish.
“Without this fellowship, I didn't have a chance to step into this field,” she says.
Forough Jahandideh was supervised by Stephane Bourque. Her research was supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.