Newborn Brain Research Institute

Each year tens of thousance of premature infants develop moderate to severe brain abnormalities. Newborn neurological injuries are the leading cause of mental retardation, developmental delay and spasticity (cerebral palsy) in the United States. As doctors save the lives of more and more premature infants, the number of newborns with abnormal brain function is increasing, yet no effective treatments exist.

Nearly 50% of premature babies will develop abnormal brain functions, and 15% of these will have such severe disabilities that lifelong care will be required. Compounding this growing problem, funding for newborn brain research remains scarce.

Responding to the public health crisis, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital has established an ambitious program that is taking bold new approaches: the Newborn Brain Research Institute. Concentrating world-class medical talent and applying promising research, the Newborn Brain Research Institute is pioneering medical breakthroughs for newborns with neurological complications. The co-directors of the NBRI are Donna Ferriero, MD, a neurologist and leading clinical investigator in neurological problems of newborns, and David Rowitch, MD, PhD, a neonatologist and HHMI investigator whose laboratory research focuses on basic biological regulation of neural stem cells.

NBRI Annual Report

The UCSF NBRI Annual Report is now online covering our most recent activities and goals.

The Newborn Brain Research Institute's goal is to one day eliminate brain abnormalities in infants by unlocking the developing brain's innate ability to protect and repair itself. Already the program's leading-edge research has revealed that the developing brain can, in fact, heal itself.

In addition, the Newborn Brain Research Institute recently opening the country's most advanced clinical care for preterm and term newborns facing serious brain conditions.

Achieving Goals of the NBRI Through Translational Research

The NBRI fosters translational research, comprising multi-disciplinary effort that connects both basic scientists and clinical researchers integrated into the following thematic areas:

  1. Basic Neurosciences: For a comprehensive approach to newborn neurological disorders, we first need to understand basic principles of human brain development and stem cell biology. A team of lab-based researchers, led by Dr. David Rowitch, is applying cutting edge advances in the neurosciences to cerebral palsy (CP). Our ultimate goal is to be able to generate and test novel drugs for prevention of neurological injury.

    Learn more about NBRI Basic Research

  2. Research Neuropathology: To establish a basis for new therapies, we must understand the root causes of CP. UCSF is building a tissue bank to enable detailed investigation of the premature and full-term infant brain. Secondly, we wish to determine susceptibility factors that may put particular premature patients at high risk for developing CP, including analysis of both the genes (genome) and proteins (proteome) of patients and their families. Learn more about the UCSF Pediatric Neuropathology Laboratory

  3. Clinical Neurotherapy: To raise the standards of clinical care and facilitate implementation of clinical trials, UCSF founded the nation’s first Neuro-Intensive Care Nursery (NICN) in 2008, with specialized medical, nursing and imaging capabilities. We have plans to begin trials of novel neuroprotective drugs in the near future.

    Learn more about NBRI Clinical Research

    Learn more about PMD Clinical Trial

  4. New Therapies for Neuroprotection and Neurorepair: In 2007, UCSF began to offer clinical hypothermia (cooling therapy) for full-term infants at risk for brain injury. It may take many years to know how well a therapy works. Therefore, UCSF maintains a long-term follow up clinic, providing detailed assessment of patient outcomes as well as physical and occupational therapy and ongoing family support.

    More info on Hypothermia Treatment