Neonatal Research Network

Each year, nearly 1 million premature babies in the United States will die due to health complications. Since 1998, we have worked with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to conduct research aimed at saving the lives of expectant mothers and premature babies.

These studies have led to changes in care practices and improved outcomes for high-risk infants and their mothers. For example, findings include: that steroids improve survival and reduce the chances of certain birth defects for extremely premature infants—even if the treatment course is not finished before delivery—and that increased oxygen can raise the chances for survival in babies born prematurely.

RTI is the data coordinating center for the NICHD Neonatal Research Network (NRN), a group of academic medical centers that conduct clinical research to investigate the effectiveness of treatments for sick or premature newborn babies.

In addition, we develop innovative trial designs to address the unique challenges in neonatal trials. For example, when studying the effects of cooling to reduce the risk of moderate and severe hypoxic-Ischemic encephalopathy—brain injury due to asphyxia—in premature infants, a limited population of infants from which to enroll study participants posed a challenge. As a solution, we used a Bayesian design based on a similar trial in full-term infants to develop a reasonable and effective study with a limited sample size.

We also develop tools for the NRN such as the Neonatal BPD Outcome Estimator, which predicts the risk of BPD and Very Low Weight Postnatal Growth Charts that provide individualized expected growth curves.

To date, we have supported more than 200 NRN studies aimed at understanding and improving health practices associated with premature births.