Meghan Puglia, PhD, and Collaborators Awarded $200,000 Grant from The Jefferson Trust

February 15, 2024 by

Meghan Puglia with baby and colleague

Meghan Puglia, PhD, (left) with baby and mother. (photo credit Lynn Johnson)

Meghan Puglia, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, and an interdisciplinary team of School of Medicine researchers were awarded a $200,000 grant from The Jefferson Trust.

Dr. Puglia’s research will examine how variable early life sensory exposure following preterm birth shapes developing neural circuitry and impacts developmental outcomes.

Preterm infants – those born before 37 weeks of gestation – are at increased risk of sensory impairments, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and autism, among other disorders. While medical care continuously advances, enabling preterm infants to survive at increasingly earlier gestational ages, there is much work to be done to understand and optimize long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes for these infants.

“Because most prenatal brain development occurs during the third trimester, premature birth significantly impacts neural organization and sensory system maturation,” said Dr. Puglia. These disruptions likely occur because preterm infants are exposed to extrauterine sensory input before the premature brain is prepared to process such unfiltered, complex stimuli.

“Our research will combine cutting-edge techniques in human neuroscience, epigenetics, and statistical modeling to understand how interactions between the epigenome, brain, and early environment shape individual neurodevelopmental trajectories,” Dr. Puglia stated.

The project aligns with the Neuroscience and Precision Medicine priority research areas defined in the University of Virginia’s 2030 Plan, and its strategic goal to “enable discoveries that enrich and improve lives.”

Ultimately, Dr. Puglia and team aim to influence how clinicians provide care to a growing population of the most vulnerable neonates to optimize neurodevelopmental outcomes for all children.

Collaborators on this project include Santina Zanelli, MD, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics; Kevin Pelphrey, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neurology; and Greg Gerling, PhD, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Photo credit: Lynn Johnson, National Geographic

Filed Under: Research