Faculty and Staff

Cynthia Blanco, MD, MSCI, Division Chief

Dr. Blanco is a leader in neonatal nutrition research and serves on the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her special interests are on developing strategies to decrease intestinal disease in critical neonates by utilizing exclusive human nutrition strategies; she investigates the biochemical markers involved in pasteurized human milk and link to NEC. Her basic science research relates to glucose metabolism and insulin resistance in prematurity in an attempt to prevent obesity and diabetes. These studies are performed in a unique animal research model where insulin clamps and stable isotope tracing is performed. Dr. Blanco also investigates the effects of early parenteral nutrition, the utilization of novel therapies for infants with liver disease and short bowel syndrome in the Neonatal Nutrition and Bone Institute (NNBI). This Institute is one of few centers in the country where full metabolic analyses can be done from neonatal life through adulthood and is fully staffed by our Clinical Center for Neonatal and Childhood Research (CCNCR) personnel. Dr. Blanco serves as the Director of both the NNBI and CCNCR; she believes we will continue to improve the health of neonates, children, and adults by improving nutrition and metabolism at an early age. Dr. Blanco is the recipient of the 2022 Southern Society for Pediatric Research Founder’s Award. This award recognizes an individual as a member of the Southern Society for Pediatric Research (SSPR) who has made significant contributions to both the health care of children and the activities of the SSPR. She also recently received an RO1 from NIH titled “Metabolic mechanisms induced by enteral DHA and ARA supplementation in preterm infants.”

Alvaro G. Moreira, MD, MSCI

Dr. Moreira is the Director of the Neonatal Regenerative and Precision Medicine Laboratory, Program Director for the Physician Assistant Neonatology Residency, and is Co-Director of University Health System’s Neonatal Nutrition and Bone Institute. His research interests focus on novel therapies (mesenchymal stem cells) and application of high-fidelity technology (omics) towards bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Over the last year, he has established a well-phenotyped cohort of very low birth weight neonates who are at risk for developing BPD. In conjunction with a robust collection of clinical data, Dr. Moreira and his team obtains biospecimens that are routinely discarded as medical waste (urine, stool, tracheal aspirates, umbilical cord tissue, etc.). The goal is to utilize the advances in precision medicine to develop a multi-omic approach (epigenomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, metabolomic, etc.) to understand the mechanisms underlying the development of BPD. Furthermore, he has now extended this program (TX BPDSeq) to two other sites in Texas. Dr. Moreira’s studies are supported in part by a K23 NIH 4-year award, 2021, titled “Genomic Determinants of Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia Development in Humans and an Animal Model.” In July 2021, Dr. Moreira received a K23 NIH titled “Genomic determinants of bonchopulmonary dysplasia development in humans and an animal model.”

Steven Abrams, MD

Dr. Abrams’ research focuses on nutritional needs of high-risk infants and children. He has extensive experience in assessing mineral requirements in children of all ages throughout the world using stable isotope tracers. Currently his research focuses on identifying optimal methods for fortifying human milk for premature infants and the nutritional management of infants after NICU discharge or those with complex congenital health disease. He is also involved in research at the University of Texas at Austin related to social policy and its role in nutritional deficiency including ongoing studies on the relationship between ethnicity, poverty and food insecurity in families with small children. Dr. Abrams is the current chair (2018-2022) of the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics and has previously been associate editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. He has a strong interest in training fellows in the fundamentals of nutrition research and government nutritional policies.

J.B. Cantey, MD

Dr. Cantey is the first formally dual-boarded pediatrician in pediatric infectious diseases and neonatal/perinatal medicine. His particular areas of interest include antimicrobial stewardship and responsible prescribing in the NICU and newborn nursery setting; he published the first prospective antimicrobial stewardship study in the NICU and has become an internationally recognized expert on nursery stewardship. Dr. Cantey is focused on both improving the delivery of antimicrobial stewardship to infants born in low-resource settings as well as expanding our knowledge of the adverse impact antibiotics have on the normal development of term and preterm infants. Other areas of interest include infection control and prevention in the nursery and the pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and longitudinal follow-up of congenital and perinatal infections, particularly herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus, and syphilis. His passion for teaching and education is exemplified by having published more than 50 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals. He has also authored 2 textbooks on neonatal infections and serves on the editorial board of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Nelson’s Pediatric Antimicrobial therapy as well as chapter author for the Red Book. Dr. Cantey recently received an RO1 from NIH-AHRQ titled “Dissemination and implementation of a telehealth program to deliver effective antibiotic stewardship support to rural or medically underserved newborn nurseries.”

Alice Gong, MD

Dr. Gong is the Medical Director of a state-of-the-art PREMIEre (premature infant neurodevelopmental) program. The program has adapted to the needs of the complexities associated with increasing survival of extremely premature newborns. This multidisciplinary program follows all babies born at less than 32 weeks completed gestational age or less than 1500 grams. In addition, any infant with neurological condition or compromise is followed as well as any infant deemed high risk by the attending Neonatologist. Infants are followed with case managers for growth and development. We are doing early cerebral palsy (CP) diagnosis; our staff is trained in the Prechtl General Motor Assessment and the Hammersmith Infant Neurological examination. Infants are followed closely in the first year for high risk of CP and offered intervention as needed. After the first year, infants are evaluated by Bayley scales of Infant development. When the children are at pre-school age, they are tested annually with Differential Ability Scales-II for school readiness. The clinic has always kept an extensive data base that is available for longitudinal research initiatives. We are active participants of the National Eye Institute network for Retinopathy of Prematurity research and have contributed to many clinic trials such as cryo-ROP, Light ROP, ETROP, and eROP.

Don McCurnin, MD

Dr. McCurnin’ s research interests have mainly focused on the patent ductus arteriosus, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, pulmonary hypertension and the assessment of cardiac function in neonates. He has over 40 authored and co-authored peer reviewed articles and has made numerous presentations at national and international meetings. During his time in the Air Force, Dr McCurnin was contributory to the development of pioneering programs in the use of high frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV), extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), long distance transport ECMO and inhaled nitric oxide therapy (iNO) for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension. He has received substantial grant support from the Department of Defense, NIH, the American Heart Association and other funding sources. Most recently, his research projects include the use of mesenchymal stems in surfactant deficiency and in hypoxic ischemic injury models. Both these projects involve collaborations with prominent researchers in Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada. He works closely supporting Dr Blanco’s research into the role of glucose signaling utilizing translational studies as well as extensive clinical database analysis. Additional clinical projects include the use of ultrasound to assess body composition, the impact of iron overload during ECMO, biomarkers in the assessment of late onset sepsis and NEC and nutritional management of babies at risk for BPD.

Shamimunisa Mustafa, PhD

Dr. Mustafa’s research interests lie in the area of regulation of lung epithelial ion transport via sodium channels, particularly their regulation by synthetic glucocorticoids, cAMP, and proinflammatory mediators. Another main area of importance are the effects of synthetic analogs of dexamethasone in the premature lung. The use of postnatal dex to alleviate respiratory disease in premature babies is limited because of the associated growth retardation of the developing lung and neurological defects in children that were exposed to postnatal dex as preterm babies. She is looking at the efficacy of these analogs in elevating markers of lung maturation and angiogenic growth factors which drive alveolarization. She is also pursuing the area of lung development in caveolin-1 deficient newborn rodents, who, as adults are highly susceptible to respiratory infection and do present with lung disease similar to the human lung diseases of COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. More recently, she has focused efforts on investigating the therapeutic effects of stem cells in large animal models of BPD. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Steve Seidner, and two international investigators, Drs. Bernard Thebaud and Marius Mobius. She is heavily invested in investigating the effects of postnatal adaptation and short-term mechanical ventilation on resident lung mesenchymal stromal cells isolated from preterm animal models.

Steven R. Seidner, MD

Dr. Seidner is a nationally recognized expert in the field of lung surfactant biology with a focus on surfactant lipid and protein metabolism following lung injury in ventilated preterm and adult animal models. He was influential in developing the premature large animal bronchopulmonary dysplasia model; an accomplishment that resulted in a consortium-based multidisciplinary funding mechanism sponsored by the NHLBI. He is also heavily invested in the regulation of ductus arteriosus remodeling by nitric oxide and prostaglandins in preterm animals of borderline viability; these studies formed the basis of a novel therapy for closing the ductus arteriosus in preterm babies potentially avoiding surgical interventions. He has participated in many clinical trials utilizing novel devices that have resulted in significant clinical advances in assessing degrees of perfusion in neonatal intestines. He is currently the principal investigator of a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research titled “Therapeutic Potential of Stem Cells in Lung Injury”. These studies in collaboration with Bernard Thebaud, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and one of the world’s experts on stem cell therapy for neonatal lung disease.

Margarita Vasquez, MD, Fellowship Program Director

Dr. Vasquez is the Director of Neonatal Simulation and Neonatal Resuscitation Program. During her tenure, her research interests have focused on improving trainee simulation for intubation success with direct- and video-laryngoscopy in a mannequin and in a large animal model. She has implemented rapid cycle deliberate practice (RCDP) into the resuscitation model and has a team of experts to lead these efforts with dedicated time for the Neonatal-Perinatal fellows, neonatal and OB transport team members. Fellows have presented their simulation research at national and international meetings. Dr. Vasquez’s education research goes beyond simulation and takes it to the classroom with her heavy participation in the National Neonatology Curriculum Committee (NNC) through the Organization of Neonatal-Perinatal Training Program Directors (ONTPD). The main project of the NNC is to develop a Neonatal physiology curriculum for Neonatal fellows nationwide through the use of the flipped classroom. These research projects have resulted in 5-7 presentations at the Pediatric Academic Society meeting for the last 2 years as well as publications on use of the flipped classroom in Neonatology. She has mentored several fellows throughout the years and has led the Quality Improvement Projects (QAPI) through her involvement in the hospital Neonatal QAPI committee by mentoring resident and fellow QI projects. A few examples are implementation of delivery room bundle to improve temperature regulation in the first hour of life (golden hour) and delayed cord clamping. Dr. Vasquez recently received the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) Human Factors and Education Grant Award titled “Resident Education Managing ELBW Resuscitation (REMER).” The main hypothesis is that rapid cycle deliberate practice focused educational interventions will result in improvement in residents’ skill performances in positive pressure ventilation (PPV), endotracheal intubation (EI), and neonatal resuscitation as measured by scored ELBW simulations videos as compared to a control group. She was also selected as an Academy of Educational Scholars Star Educator at UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine.

Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Faculty and Staff

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