UCI nurses receive $2.7 million to study exercise and impact on growth in premature babies


Orange, Calif., Oct. 10, 2005 -- University of California, Irvine Medical Center received a four-year, $2.7 million grant Sept. 30 from the National Institute of Nursing Research and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to study the effects of exercise on improved body weight and strength for premature infants. Patterned after an Israeli study, UCI neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses performed a pilot study last year on 55 premature babies, which led to the NIH grant submission and approval.

"When I saw the positive outcomes of the study done in Israel, I approached UCI about instituting our own study, using bedside nurses to perform the exercises," said Maria Coussens, the study's co-investigator and UCI neonatal intensive care unit nurse. "It's exciting that our pilot study has now led to a National Institutes of Health effort to promote more positive outcomes for these fragile, tiny babies."

As part of the study, nurses will perform daily range of motion exercises to the arm and leg joints of about 200 premature infants for four weeks. A series of tests will be performed to monitor progress, including blood tests to measure growth hormones and ultrasounds to evaluate bone density. In addition, the study will use state-of-the-art techniques and minimally invasive technologies to measure muscle mass, bone strength and levels of physical activity.

The incidence of pre-term births (infants born at less than 37 weeks gestation) continues to increase, and identifying approaches that optimize weight gain and reduce length of stay remains one of the greatest challenges in current neonatal practice. Weight gain is a critical determinant of healthy outcomes in the NICU, and exercise interventions that improve body mass accrual could ultimately reduce length of stay and influence standard of care.

"This is UCI's first nurse-led grant sponsored by the National Institute of Nursing Research," said Dr. Dan Cooper, principle investigator of the study and director of the UCI General Clinical Research Center. "The exercises will be performed by a team of neonatal-trained nurses and data collected and interpreted by a group that includes nurse investigators."

Study co-investigators from the NICU include nurses Maria Coussens, Donna Grochow and Robin Koeppel, who will be joined by Ruth Mulnard, one of UCI's most successful nurse investigators.

UCI Medical Center was the first hospital in Orange County to receive Magnet Designation for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. "Evidence-based nursing is a key characteristic of Magnet-designated hospitals. This NIH grant illustrates how nurses are an integral part of the clinical care and research teams at UCI Medical Center," said Lisa Reiser, Chief Patient Care Services Officer.

"A very exciting feature of this research is that it brings together nurses, physicians, and scientists to improve the health of premature babies. This is the kind of true collaborative research that could have a substantial impact on how these infants are cared for throughout the country," Cooper said.

UCI Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit provides coordinated multi-specialty care for high-risk newborns. The unit provides care for more than 500 infants born at UCI Medical Center or transported there for specialized care from Orange and other neighboring counties. The sickest infants include extremely premature newborns weighing approximately 16 ounces or less at birth, infants with complex congenital heart disease and infants with serious congenital malformations.

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