The Mass General for Children Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is committed to conducting research and expanding knowledge about the conditions that affect our patients. Our researchers are engaged in numerous areas of study, including infant brain and lung development, early immune system development and infant feeding readiness and pain responses.

Sara V. Bates, MD

Dr. Bates studies neonatal environmental, genetic, and metabolic influences on normal and pathological brain development. She and her team are applying advanced neuroimaging acquisition and analysis methodologies to improve our understanding of infant brain structure and function in a broad range of clinical contexts. Her current work is focused on detecting brain insults resulting from Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy as well as exploring potential brain differences in infants with in-utero drug exposures. Using a combination of clinical and imaging data, the lab strives to improve both diagnostic and prognostic information for at-risk infants, their families, and care teams. Dr. Bates is also the founding director of the MGfC Infant Brain Center.

Kim Francis, RN, PhD, PHCNS-BC

Dr. Francis studies how preterm infants demonstrate a pain response. Pain assessment is critical as preterm infants experience a disproportionate amount of painful procedures that can result in future negative health outcomes. Her group utilizes infrared thermography (IT), a low cost, noninvasive technology, to determine specific pain behaviors for the preterm infant population. Additionally, Dr. Francis is investigating facilitators and barriers for obtaining parental consent in the neonatal intensive care and special care nurseries. She hopes that this study will inform researchers about the needs of parents regarding information, education and access to research for this population.

Paul Lerou, MD

Dr. Lerou studies bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease that is one of the most common complications of extreme prematurity. Clinical interventions to prevent and treat BPD are complex and expensive, yet not very effective—the incidence of this disorder is unchanged over the past several decades. Dr. Lerou’s group studies the role and function of mesenchymal and epithelial progenitor cells derived directly from tracheal secretions of intubated newborns across a spectrum of disease and developmental maturity. They integrate innovative single cell, bioengineering, and developmental biology techniques. Patient-specific lung progenitors will improve our understanding of BPD and in the future can be used in a precision medicine approach to prevent and treat this disease.

Juan Matute, MD

Dr. Matute is a neonatologist and junior scientist currently training in the use of murine models, classic immunological techniques and next-generation sequencing to understand the mucosal immune system interactions with the intestinal microbiota and how they modulate our risk to disease. He is currently evaluating how the host-microbiota interface promotes intestinal inflammatory conditions and systemic inflammatory disorders like obesity. He is particularly interested in understanding how the interaction between our microbiota early in life modulates the disease risk later in life. The long-term goal of his research efforts is to develop a research program that expands the options we have to prevent and treat inflammatory conditions that result from a dysregulated host-microbiota in the neonatal period but might manifest through our lifespan.

Brett Nelson, MD, MPH

Dr. Nelson’s research is aimed at improving the survival and health of newborns in resource-limited areas while working for organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionMédecins Sans FrontièresUNICEFInternational Rescue CommitteeInternational Red Cross and Red Crescent, and Harvard University. He has been heavily involved in leading large-scale, country-level newborn and child health programs in several countries in East and West Africa, including the "Helping Babies Breathe" and "Essential Care for Every Baby" programs in Tanzania and Ghana. Dr. Nelson directs Harvard Medical School’s course, "Clinical Topics in Global Health," and is the editor of the textbook Essential Clinical Global Health.

Sergei Roumiantsev, MD, PhD

Dr. Roumiantsev’s research is aimed at understanding how new precision medicine approaches and techniques can be used in an effective and ethical manner to improve the care of our NICU patients. Ongoing studies in our NICU use whole exome sequencing and other novel genetic techniques to facilitate rapid diagnosis of critically ill babies and learn how these approaches affect NICU team medical decision making, parental choices, and clinical utilization moving forward. We also collaborate with the Partners Biobank and the NIH All of Us initiative on a large-scale project linking genetic data repository and health outcomes. Our long term goal is to improve our understanding of the risks and benefits of integrating genomic data in the medical care of newborns during their pediatric years and beyond.

Davida Schiff, MD

Dr. Schiff is a general academic pediatrician and health services researcher focused on understanding how substance use in pregnant and parenting women impacts the health of children and families. Her research is focused on improving care for families affected by substance use and her past scholarship has been published in the New England Journal of MedicineJAMAPediatricsAcademic Pediatrics, and Journal of Substance Abuse and Treatment, among other journals. She is an Instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She is the medical director of the HOPE Clinic (Harnessing support for Opioid and substance use disorder in Pregnancy and Early childhood) at Mass General, a multidisciplinary program caring for women and families with substance use disorder from the time of conception through the first two years postpartum.

Margaret (Peggy) Settle RN, PhD

Dr. Settle studies preterm infant behaviors that indicate readiness to orally feed. Inappropriately timed feedings can lead to long term health consequences including oral aversion, poor growth, and speech delays. Utilizing an Infant Driven Feeding method, her group investigates the influence the NICU unit design and caregiver feeding expertise have on the preterm infant’s skillful achievement of independent oral feeding and length of stay. Dr. Settle plans to correlate a recently identified salivary biomarker for feeding readiness with the behaviors in the Infant Driven Feeding scales to establish reliability and validity of the method. Empirically validating an the Infant Driven Feeding Scales with salivary biomarkers will enable clinicians to provide evidenced-based care and understand the attainment of independent oral feeding in relation to length of stay. Additionally, Dr. Settle investigates the parent’s perceptions of their infant’s participation in research studies.

Melissa Woythaler, DO

Dr. Woythaler studies neurodevelopmental outcomes in premature infants. Neurodevelopment encompasses the brain’s development of pathways that influence performance or functioning including gross and fine motor, cognitive abilities, language abilities, social skills, and attention. Premature infants are at higher risk for having alterations in development and long-term issues in school and achievement. As part of her research, Dr. Woythaler also participates in the New England Follow-up Network, where she collaborates with other Neonatologists to study outcomes of preterm infants.