McMaster University

McMaster University

Researcher gets big push to help tiny patients

The Hamilton Spectator
January 26, 2010
By Naomi Powell

A star researcher is leading the push to make McMaster Children's Hospital a North American leader in neonatal intensive care.

Dr. Christoph Fusch has been awarded the $2-million Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation/Jack Sinclair Chair in Neonatology.

As the head of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), he will research how to nurture normal brain development and organ function in babies who are born early.

"The babies need to grow as they would grow in the uterus," he said following an announcement yesterday. "That's the art in the end. It's the art of making them grow."

The number of preemies born in Canada has jumped 25 per cent in the last decade, in part because of fertility treatments, older mothers and rising rates of high blood pressure and diabetes. McMaster's NICU is the largest in Ontario and the second largest in Canada, treating about 1,000 preemies each year.

Among those babies, roughly 200 are born with very low birth weights of 1,500 grams (3.3 pounds) or less. Another 80 babies weigh less than 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds).

Though their survival rates have improved dramatically, these babies bear a higher risk of acquiring infections and developing brain and lung damage.

"What we want to do is improve the outcome of these babies," Fusch said. "Survival is no longer the problem."

Fusch is the former chairperson of neonatology at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Greifswald, Germany. He joined McMaster just over 18 months ago.

A key aspect of his work at McMaster will be to study the metabolism of preemies in greater detail through the use of powerful machinery known as mass spectrometers.

By analyzing tissue, he hopes to learn how to mimic the nutrition babies receive in the womb.

Dr. John Kelton, dean of McMaster's faculty of Health Sciences, has challenged Fusch to make McMaster the best in North America in neonatal intensive care research and education in five years.

"You have a little longer to make us the best in the world," he said.

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