Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit can be an extremely difficult thing for parents. But a national network is working to ensure that critically ill newborns have access to the most advanced treatments.
The National Institutes of Health’s prestigious Neonatal Research Network is an elite group of 15 sites across the country that have exclusive access to leading-edge clinical trials. The Boekelheide Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, recently joined as a participating hospital with the Network’s University of Iowa Center.
The network brings together the top neonatal facilities in the country in an effort to improve the short and long-term health of babies. To join the network, hospitals must go through a rigorous screening process. This includes site visits from the NIH who are reviewing everything from the facility and the staff to the physicians and the clinical research team overseeing the trials.
Clinical trials for extremely sick newborns
Once accepted into the network, sites begin the collaborative process of moving research forward in order to improve the care of newborns who are extremely sick. The fastest and safest way to make strides in treatment and care is through the implementation of well-designed, multi-center clinical trials. These studies look for new ways to prevent, detect or treat disease. This can include studies on new medications, new surgical procedures or devices, or any other aspect of health care.
Members of the network work together as a cohesive team to develop and implement these types of trials, which – once approved – will be made available throughout all the sites. Physicians then are able to offer these advanced treatment options to families whose children are receiving care at that site, potentially improving the child’s quality of life or even saving it. Once the trial is complete, data is collected from each site, analyzed and shared. It is this information that is critical in moving care forward for all sick newborns.
“Being part of this network means you are helping build studies and trials that will bring the best care possible to critically ill babies,” said Michelle Baack, M.D., a Sanford Health neonatologist and clinical investigator leading Sanford’s Neonatal Research Network site. “The research that is conducted will help shape the standard of care for neonatal units across the world.”
After the babies leave the NICU, the long-term impact of their care is also studied through a NICU follow-up clinic. Neonatologist Laurie Hogden, M.D., leads the follow-up clinic at Sanford Health. It helps determine not only how care in the NICU immediately impacts infants but also how that care impacts their health throughout their lifetime.