Researchers work on new ways to improve health of infants

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 17, 2020

Gerber grant supports "Grow Baby Grow" program

Kennesaw State researchers Louise Lawson and Nicole Ferguson of the Department of Statistics and Analytical Sciences have received a three-year, $334,000 grant from the Gerber Foundation, an organization that supports projects enhancing the quality of life of infants and young children in nutrition, care, and development.

Their project, “Grow Baby Grow,” will focus on studying classifications used to determine appropriateness of growth in premature infants and how these growth curves can predict which infants are most at risk. They plan to standardize the classifications, using epidemiological techniques to help better identify those infants most at risk.

“Our analysis of growth curves will help clinicians ensure that infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are growing appropriately while in the hospital, thereby allowing these infants to receive targeted nutritional and medical treatment,” said Lawson, professor of statistics. “Using our results, any clinician or medical researcher can use the growth curves to make better diagnostic decisions.”

Lawson and Ferguson will conduct this research in the Human Studies Lab, a teaching and research computer laboratory they co-founded at KSU. This lab in the College of Science and Mathematics focuses on medical and other public health research, using high speed computers in a secure environment to analyze medical record data in order to describe trends or help make recommendations related to research questions.

KSU undergraduate and graduate students actively participate in the research process through enrollment in the professors’ statistics courses as well as becoming research assistants for the lab.

“In fact, one of our graduate student assistants, Randall English, was instrumental in helping us write the grant for Gerber,” said Lawson, lab director. “He developed the idea for the introductory paragraphs of the proposal, which was instrumental in persuading the Gerber grant reviewers to fund us.”

English, who is pursuing a master’s degree in applied statistics at KSU, has worked in the lab for more than a year.

“I never expected the opportunities available from working with Dr. Lawson and Dr. Ferguson,” he said. “I knew that the master's program would prepare me for a job in statistics, but I had no idea I would also be involved in this hands-on research experience.”

“One of the lab’s primary goals is to include more students in research and train them on applied data analytics and statistical techniques,” added Ferguson, lab co-director and associate professor of statistics. “With the Gerber grant, we will now be able to spend more time on research and provide stipends for some of our student researchers.”

The Human Studies Lab was originally formed to explore questions related to growth in infants born prematurely. For research purposes, lab members have access to a large data set of anonymous medical records for more than 1 million infants in NICUs around the United States, representing approximately 20 percent of all U.S. NICUs’ records.

In the past few years, projects have expanded as the lab has partnered with additional external collaborators. The research has included studying pulmonary function in older adults and studying the effectiveness of treating lower back pain with a new medical device.  

– Geena Lawrence

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