June 06, 2015
1 min read

NIH awards $4.1 million for neonatal sepsis investigation

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The NIH granted a neurosurgeon at Penn State with a $4.1 million Pioneer Award to explore neonatal sepsis, according to a press release.

Award recipient Steven Schiff, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and director of Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, and colleagues will assess DNA and RNA in infants with neonatal sepsis and their mothers in Uganda to identify bacteria, viruses and microbial agents that generate infection and how the organisms interact with each other, Schiff said in the release. Contributing factors, such as season of birth and home environment, and hydrocephalus, the build-up of fluid in the brain often followed by neonatal sepsis, will also be examined.

“We know that climate – specifically rainfall – is associated with the cases that go on to develop hydrocephalus, and we will combine microbial surveillance with satellite rainfall data to form predictive models that will enable us to predict, at any given week or location, the optimal antimicrobials to administer to newborns with sepsis,” Schiff said in the release.

Through characterization of organisms, researchers will determine the efficacy of antimicrobials currently used in sub-Saharan African populations. Researchers will use patient data and controlled engineering methods to develop a model-based system to further optimize treatment.

“Engineering control theory and its implementations are the way we control things such as self-driving cars or airplane autolanders,” Schiff said in the release. “We make a model of the system and use that in a computer to emulate the system, synchronize to it and optimally control it. The use of engineering control principles has had little role so far in the control of epidemic infections. Our methodology will also apply to other types of infectious processes we seek to gain better control of.”