Innovation & Research

Our neonatologists are also faculty members at the Stanford University School of Medicine. As faculty, they conduct clinical trials and perform research to ultimately improve outcomes for newborn babies. These physician-scientists look for ways to treat neonatal problems—or to prevent them completely—using the least invasive and least traumatic methods to give your baby the best chance to lead a healthy life.

Stanford Children's Health is involved in large, national research studies. We are one of 14 large academic medical center nurseries across the United States that participates in Neonatal Network NICHD (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development) clinical trials.

Some of our research and the resulting patient care innovations are listed below:

Preventing prematurity and advancing care for premature babies

One out of every 10 babies in the U.S. is born preterm. Thanks to a $1 million contribution from the Maternal and Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), Stanford Children's Health was enabled to assume a national leadership role in solving the mysteries of prematurity. The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center which was established at Stanford is the first transdisciplinary research center that was established in the U.S. to address the issue of preterm birth. One of the center's most notable initiatives is the development of a noninvasive diagnostic method that helps estimate gestational age and predict preterm delivery. A tremendous benefit of this breakthrough discovery is its ability to potentially uncover the underlying causes of preterm birth and suggest solutions for intervention.

Bedside ultrasound improves care and patient experience

Babies in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit now benefit from immediate access to ultrasound. Using point-of-care ultrasound, our providers can get instant answers to their clinical questions. When a standard x-ray cannot discern the cause of respiratory distress, bedside ultrasound can help on the spot so that further evaluation and management can begin immediately. Using ultrasound has also been shown to reduce the number of x-rays and pokes for lines that NICU babies endure.

Bedside ultrasound has been used by other specialties for years, but it’s a relatively new technology for NICUs. We are proud to be the only NICU in the Bay Area where bedside ultrasound is regularly used. We are adding more ultrasound machines and training more providers to continue to expand this important program.

Prenatal steroids reduce preemies' risk for brain bleeding

Research led by neonatologist, Henry Lee, MD, reveals that even the tiniest preemies can benefit from prenatal steroid treatment. Lee and his colleagues found that in addition to improved lung development, treatment given before birth can protect preemies from brain hemorrhaging after birth by 50 percent. Read more about how steroids protect preemies' brains.

Correcting gastroschisis without surgery

Gastroschisis is a defect in which the bowel, stomach and liver push through an opening in the wall of the abdomen. Our neonatologists work with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford Pediatric General Surgeons to correct gastroschisis without surgery. Read more about the treatment.

Reducing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)

We have reduced the numbers of babies who develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in our nurseries by standardizing how we feed very small babies. Our neonatologists developed new feeding guidelines that involve gradual, systematic increases in feeds. This increased babies’ tolerance for feeding and provided optimal nutrition.

Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) closure

A patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) in a premature baby often does not close on schedule. Past treatments involved surgery or medication to close the heart vessel. Our team’s research has shown that neither of these treatments may be necessary. Now, care teams can focus on supporting the baby until the PDA closes on its own.

Determining the right level of brain oxygenation for healthy neurodevelopment in preemies

The first seven days of life is critical for premature infants, especially for those born prior to 29 weeks gestation. During this time, these infants are most at risk for intraventricular hemorrhage and other brain injuries. Our neonatology team has conducted a research study to determine the “just-right” cerebral oxygenation range for healthy neurodevelopment. If oxygen levels are too low, the risk of mortality increases, but if oxygen levels are too high, other injuries, like chronic lung disease and retinopathy of prematurity, may crop up. Building on our team's previous research studies, the Stanford physician-scientists are now looking into the efficacy of a non-invasive tool that can help measure brain oxygen levels in infants to prevent serious conditions from happening in these young patients.

Treating brain injury from lack of oxygen at birth

We participated in a Neonatal Network NICHD clinical trial for babies with brain injuries caused by a lack of oxygen during birth. Wrapping the baby with a cooling blanket within six hours after birth proved to be successful in reducing the risk of brain injury. Since we participated in the clinical trial, we immediately started using this new, proven treatment on babies seen in our nurseries.

Using safe and efficient drug doses when caring for infants

Our researchers have discovered that there is a lack of evidence to support most medication dosing strategies in babies. Infants are historically an understudied patient population and most drugs don’t have formally FDA-approved labeling information for children. Thanks to a research grant, our neonatology team was able to kick off the development of a therapeutic framework at Stanford Children’s Health which is also meant to serve as a resource for other children’s hospitals looking to employ a data-informed precision dosing strategy. 

Retinopathy of prematurity

Our colleagues in Pediatric Ophthalmology have developed a network for diagnosing premature babies for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). The network helps physicians to diagnose ROP in its early stages, which is vital to successful treatment and preventing blindness.

Learn more

Please visit the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine’s Stanford University School of Medicine to learn more about neonatal research.