Mendez-Figueroa, Rysavy receive prestigious awards

By Jeannette Sanchez, Office of Public Affairs

Dr. Hector Mendez-Figueroa and Dr. Matthew A. Rysavy receive NICHD MFMU and NRN grants
Hector Mendez-Figueroa, MD, and Matthew A. Rysavy, MD, PhD

Prestigious grants totaling more than $4 million from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network (MFMU) and the NICHD Neonatal Research Network (NRN) have been awarded to UTHealth Houston.

McGovern Medical School is the only institution in Texas to receive the prestigious designation for both maternal-fetal medicine and neonatal health. Researchers will focus on decreasing preterm birth and improving maternal and neonatal outcomes.

“We are very proud to receive this new award, which highlights the superb effort of our previous principal investigator Dr. Suneet P. Chauhan, and our current chair Dr. Sean Blackwell,” said Hector Mendez-Figueroa, MD, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, and principal investigator of the NICHD MFMU award of more than $2 million over seven years. “Both have been instrumental in highlighting the value of research and the importance of incorporating it into clinical care as we use evidence-based medicine for the best outcomes for moms and their babies.”

Through the NICHD MFMU, researchers with UTHealth Houston were part of the ARRIVE trial, which evaluated the benefit of elective induction at 39 weeks among first-time moms. Mendez-Figueroa said the study findings showed a benefit to newborns when following this strategy. “We also recently collaborated in the ALPS trial, which demonstrated the benefit of antenatal corticosteroids administered after 34 weeks, a novel approach previously not implemented,” he said.

Currently, researchers are assessing the benefits of treating obstructive sleep apnea early in pregnancy in an attempt to decrease the risk of preeclampsia; and evaluating strategies to decrease the risk of preterm birth among twins by using vaginal progesterone or pessary.

“In the next few months as part of the network, we hope to initiate a research protocol evaluating the ideal timing for initiating treatment for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Additionally, we will assess the use of prophylactic antibiotics to decrease infectious morbidity for patients undergoing elective cesarean sections,” Mendez-Figueroa said.

UTHealth Houston has been a part of the NICHD NRN since 1998, and at the end of this seven-year grant cycle, researchers will have completed more than 30 years of continuous participation. Funding for this cycle totals more than $2 million.

“The neonatology team at McGovern Medical School has expertise in comparative effectiveness research to compare clinical practices to improve care,” said Matthew A. Rysavy, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, director of Neonatal Research, and co-principal investigator on the grant.

Through the NICHD NRN, UTHealth Houston researchers led by Jon Tyson, MD, MPH, have been part of landmark studies including therapy to reduce death and disability in babies born with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (birth asphyxia), which have saved countless lives around the world; studies comparing different strategies of respiratory support and oxygen therapy, which have reduced death and morbidity in extremely preterm babies; and development of resources describing the outcomes of extremely preterm babies, which are used by tens of thousands of people each year. Tyson is a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics, and internal medicine and the Michelle Bain Distinguished Professor in Medicine and Public Health.

“This new award reflects positively on the efforts of Dr. Rysavy and the entire research team, along with the tremendous clinical program led by Dr. Amir Khan,” said Mary Aitken, MD, MPH, professor and chair in the Department of Pediatrics and Dan L Duncan Distinguished University Chair in Pediatrics. “We are proud that the Department of Pediatrics at UTHealth Houston will continue its collaborative tradition to improve the health and outcomes of critically ill and preterm newborns.”