McMaster University

McMaster University

Dr. Christoph Fusch, NICU, Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University

RAISING THE BAR in neonatal research

Photo courtesy the Hamilton Spectator.

How can we help the most vulnerable babies live longer and with a higher quality of life?

For Dr. Christoph Fusch, it’s ultimately knowing more and doing less.

During a ceremony announcing Dr. Christoph Fusch’s appointment to the Jack Sinclair chair in neonatology, Dr. John Kelton, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, said, “Dr. Fusch is a triple threat: he is an excellent teacher, a conscientious clinician and he is a world-class researcher. His focus fits particularly well into our research program on the perinatal environment.”

Such statements can be a mixed blessing. They sound nice, but the next day, you’re faced with the need to put your money where the dean’s mouth is. No doubt, since that day in 2009, that’s exactly what Fusch has been doing. As head of the Division of Neonatology, he presides over a group of clinicians and researchers widely recognized for their leadership in a number of national and international organizations, for their commitment to education and for the development, in collaboration with the School of Nursing, of the first clinical nurse specialist/neonatal practitioner program in Canada.

Now, as the Jack Sinclair chair, Fusch is using his position to further his work in helping babies who are born severely premature to live longer and better through the introduction and evaluation of gentle and effective care.

“Once babies survive, they need to grow,” says Fusch. “And they need to grow ideally like they would have in utero.” His research intends to find that out, and to discover how to do it better than we have ever done it before. He and his team are working to find conditions for optimal growth while avoiding mechanical ventilation, improving feeding and reducing the risk of infection.

“In the last three years we’ve made a lot of progress,” says Fusch. Infection rates have dropped 80 per cent in a period of 18 months, and mortality and morbidity have seen significant rates of decline, trends which Fusch notes with justifiable pride. That this has been achieved through non-invasive therapies, or what Fusch calls “device driven medicine,” just makes these results that much more significant.

While primarily a researcher, Fusch is chasing those kinds of results. He says, with an infectious level of confidence, “I could count the black dots on the ladybug’s back, right? Nice, and I can do it precisely, but does it matter? No, it doesn’t. What matters is outcome. What we want to do here is improve clinical outcomes. That’s why we do research. All research should contribute to a better outcome.”

Research is also about raising the bar. “We shouldn’t only [work to] achieve a high survival rate; we should achieve a high survival rate with babies that don’t have associated morbidities that we have either created or failed to prevent." Who would want to argue with that?

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