UF Nursing Researcher Receives $1.4 Million to Fund Study

By Victoria Colson

A University of Florida nursing researcher is set to receive $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to study nutrition in low birth weight infants, according to UF&Shands Newsnet.

The four-year study, led by Leslie Parker, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., will determine whether traditional clinical practice of assessing amounts of residual gastric contents in an infant’s stomach is beneficial or harmful to the patients’ care.

The residual gastric contents are the fluids remaining in an infant’s stomach after a feeding.

“Research has never evaluated whether this widely accepted clinical practice is beneficial to these very low birth weight infants and whether it can actually cause real harm to infants,” Parker said. “We hope this study can assess the risks and benefits of this practice and whether alternate methods can improve care.”

Because there are approximately 63,000 very low birth weigh infants born in the U.S. annually, Parker is focusing on infants weighing less than 3.3 pounds. These infants are too underdeveloped to suck, swallow and breathe simultaneously. Tube-feeding is used to correct this.

Routinely, medical caregivers will use a tube attached to a syringe to try to remove any residual gastric contents to determine if any breastmilk or formula was left in the stomach.

Large amounts of fluid left in the stomach can indicate feeding intolerance or an early symptom of necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious complication in premature infants that kills intestinal tissue.

Based on the volume or color of the residual gastric contents, caregivers will then make future nutritional decisions for the infant.

The research team will study two groups of very low birth weight infants in the NICU at Shands. One group will receive routine care, while the other will not have routine removal of fluids, but will receive alternative methods of care. However, all infants will receive breast milk from either their mothers or donors.

During the study, Parker will monitor the nutritional and gastrointestinal outcomes of both groups to assess both the risk and benefits of aspiration.

Parker is determined to discover the best solution for these very low birth weight infants.

“I hope that my program of research can improve short- and long-term health outcomes for very low birth weight infants by improving their nutritional status and decreasing complications due to prematurity.” Parker said.

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