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Women's reproductive health research scholar to study preterm birth

March 30, 2017

Sarah M. Davis, MD, was recently named the seventh scholar in the Brown University/Women & Infants Hospital Women's Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) Career Development Program.

Dr. Davis has been a member of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Women & Infants since 2015. She was selected as a WRHR scholar to support her research to study causes of preterm birth, specifically on a study entitled "Mechanisms underlying obstetric pathobiology: The study of cell-free fetal DNA, TLR9 mediated inflammation, IL-10 and parturition using human in vitro modeling."

"Preterm birth remains an important public health concern. Current studies indicate that there are multiple pathways that may lead to preterm and term delivery, including inflammation," explained Dr. Davis. "Certain cells in the placenta release fetal DNA that circulates freely in maternal blood and may contribute to inflammation that could serve as a stimulus or biomarker for labor. I am excited to have the opportunity to investigate the underlying obstetric mechanisms as they relate to cell-free fetal DNA, inflammation and labor."

Dr. Davis will work with Kristen A. Matteson, MD, MPH, research director for the WRHR program, interim director of the Division of Research at Women & Infants, and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University; along with her WRHR mentors Surendra Sharma, MBBS, PhD, research scientist at Women & Infants and professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School; and James F. Padbury, MD, pediatrician-in-chief and chief of Neonatal/Perinatal Medicine at Women & Infants and the William and Mary Oh - William and Elsa Zopfi Professor of Pediatrics for Perinatal Research at the Warren Alpert Medical School; and Katharine Wenstrom, MD, the director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School.

The WRHR Career Development Program was initiated in 1998 by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. In 2005, Women & Infants and Brown University were awarded one of the competitive WRHR Program Grants and have successfully competed for a third funding cycle for the program. One of 15 currently active programs, the Brown/Women & Infants WRHR Program ensures protected time for the selected physicians to develop and pursue research careers in women's reproductive health.

The program enables Dr. Davis and other WRHR scholars to devote 75 percent of their time to their research career development with support from mentors, research assistants and other research personnel.

Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, chair and Chace-Joukowsky Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and assistant dean for Teaching and Research in Women's Health at the Warren Alpert Medical School, professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Women & Infants Hospital and Care New England Health System, is the principal investigator for the WRHR program in Providence and Kristen A. Matteson, MD, MPH is the research director for the Brown/Women& Infants WRHR.

"By having protected time for research and career development, junior clinician-scientists are more prepared to compete in this competitive research environment," explains Dr. Phipps. "Women & Infants is honored to participate with Brown in the WRHR Scholar Program to cultivate the next generation of physician-researchers in women's health."

WRHR Scholars typically work through the program for two to five years with the expectation that they will secure their own grant funding for their projects to continue independently. Past Brown/Women & Infants WRHR Scholars who are currently on faculty at Women & Infants include:
    Kristen A. Matteson, MD, MPH, Women & Infants' first WRHR scholar, is a researcher in the Women & Infants Division of Research and a clinician in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Care Center. She earned a National Institutes of Health (NIH) career development award to develop patient-reported outcome measures for women with heavy menstrual bleeding. She is also the current research director for the WRHR program and has received NIH funding to conduct a randomized trial to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments for abnormal uterine bleeding.

  • Vivian Sung, MD, MPH, of Women & Infants' Division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery, is the principal investigator of the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network (PFDN) grant awarded to only seven sites across the country by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including Women & Infants Hospital. She has earned grant support through a Brown University/Women & Infants Hospital National Center of Excellence in Women's Health seed grant, an American Urogynecologic Society Foundation Grant, and several other NIH grants. Her research focus is improving the decision-making process and patient-centered outcomes research in treating female pelvic floor disorders.

  • Katina Robison, MD, an oncologist with the hospital's Program in Women's Oncology, continues her research focusing on women's cancers, quality of life, and prevention. Dr. Robison is the principal investigator on an institutional-funded grant evaluating the prevalence of abnormal anal cytology and high-risk HPV among women with a history of cervical, vaginal or vulvar neoplasia. She was awarded more than $2.7 million in contracted funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study cancer of the uterus and treatment of stress incontinence. Dr. Robison is currently designing a survivorship database to follow women with cancer longitudinally to assess for baseline measures and design appropriately timed interventions. Dr. Robison completed an observational cohort study, funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, that evaluated the prevalence of high-risk HPV among Southeast Asian women.
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About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation's leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. A major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women's medicine, Women & Infants is the ninth largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country and the largest in New England with approximately 8,500 deliveries per year. A Designated Baby-Friendly® USA hospital, U.S.News & World Report 2014-15 Best Children's Hospital in Neonatology and a 2014 Leapfrog Top Hospital, in 2009 Women & Infants opened what was at the time the country's largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation's first mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation's only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiography; a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute's Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.

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