Better Breathing for Babies: Q & A with Dr. Shawn Ahlfeld

Riley neonatologist Shawn Ahlfeld, M.D., with former NICU patient Molly Hess
Riley neonatologist Shawn Ahlfeld, M.D., with former NICU patient Molly Hess

Riley Hospital for Children is known across the nation and the world not only for its exceptional care, but for groundbreaking pediatric research.

In the last fiscal year, donations made through Riley Children’s Foundation provided nearly $9 million dollars to fuel the lifesaving work being done by investigators at the Wells Center for Pediatric Research, which is attached by skybridge to Riley Hospital.

Today, we introduce one of the Riley Hospital and IU School of Medicine physician-scientists working to build new hope for children, neonatologist Shawn Ahlfeld, M.D.

Q: Tell us about the research you are doing with progenitor cells, and how this work may help premature babies?

A: Chronic lung disease is very common in premature infants because the normal lung development process is interrupted. My research team is working to understand how lung development is influenced specifically by circulating blood progenitor cells. These progenitor cells appear to encourage vascular development, which helps with lung development. We are currently involved in both animal-based research and human trials to determine how these cells are affected by preterm birth and if they can be utilized to promote lung repair and development.

Q: What would be your dream result from this research?

A: What I really hope to do is help reduce the burdens most of our families face. For their first few years, many of these infants with chronic lung disease end up back in the hospital every time they get a minor respiratory illness. My hope is that we can help promote their lung development and make their lives a little easier. We want babies to go home healthier and spend less time at the hospital.

Q: How important is donor support in funding your work at the Wells Center for Pediatric Research?

A: This place would not exist without Riley Children’s Foundation. Most of the researchers in the Wells Center would not be here. Most of the things I’ve done would not have been done. It amazes me how many things are needed to conduct the research, and how much they cost. Every time I analyze a baby’s circulating progenitor cells, it costs $300-$400. The equipment we use to perform the animal components of our research is also very expensive, such as a ventilator which can cost $40,000. It’s absolutely impossible to do the work we need to do without philanthropic support. Riley Children's Foundation has done a great job keeping people funded to perform important research for the children of Indiana.

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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