The Fetal Health Foundation (FHF) named Dr. Jan Deprest the recipient of the 2016 Brianna Marie Memorial Research Grant, a $50,000 award that will be used to further his research into a serious birth defect.
Deprest, working at the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven, Belgium, and the University College of London Institute for Women’s Health, is internationally known for his work in congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a life-threatening condition in infants that affects lung development in utero. CDH is caused by a defect in which the diaphragm does not form completely, creating a hole in the muscle between the chest and the abdomen.
Deprest is best recognized for his studies on advancing tracheal occlusion techniques and equipment that allow sufficient lung development to sustain life after birth. He helped several medical centers in the U.S. receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pursue feasibility studies of fetoscopic endoluminal tracheal occlusion (FETO), a surgery done on a fetus showing signs of severe CDH to improve survival chances.
According to Deprest, 30 percent of newborns diagnosed with CDH will die because of pulmonary complications. His research team believes that the future of CDH management lies in combining post-natal therapies with pre-natal prevention and treatment strategies.
“Despite the progress in neonatology, too many newborns die due to respiratory insufficiency and pulmonary hypertension, and many others suffer significant pulmonary disease,” Deprest said in a press release. “With this research grant, we will continue to investigate the efficacy of maternally-administered sildenafil, a drug that selectively vasodilates the pulmonary arteries, to prevent pulmonary hypertension in newborns with CDH.”
This year mark third FHF grant award for fetal health research, and the first time the FHF included research projects worldwide, and combined funds to allocate $50,000 to the recipient to increase the research’s impact.
“It’s exciting to see the groundbreaking work that is occurring in the field of fetal health medicine,” said Dalia El-Prince, FHF’s executive director. “Choosing just one study to fund was difficult. Ultimately, our hope is to assist Dr. Deprest’s team in taking his study to the next level to overcome this devastating birth defect and spare its monumental emotional toll.”
The Brianna Marie Memorial Research Grant was first awarded in 2014, with support from the Brianna Marie Foundation, in honor of Brianna Marie Hissam, a child diagnosed with fetal hydrops, a condition caused by abnormal amounts of fluid accumulation in two or more body areas. Brianna Marie was born on March 16, 2012, and only lived 15 hours.