How you can help
Our mission is to provide the professional infrastructure and clinical expertise directed toward improving the quality of care and long-term outcomes for our babies. Find out how you can help support our babies and our research.
The Neonatal-Perinatal Research Unit (NPRU) is a multidisciplinary team comprised of physicians, nurses, coordinators, research staff, and data managers. This team of dedicated professionals works closely with the care team members of the NICU toward a shared goal of improving the outcomes for our babies.
Kim Fisher, PhD, FNP-BC, serves as the director of the NPRU with joint academic appointments in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing. She received her undergraduate degrees in nursing from Marshall University and Bellarmine University. She went on to receive her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner and later received her doctorate degree from the University of Virginia. Dr. Fisher’s research interests have centered around evidence-based practice and discovering the best therapies, treatments and interventions that impact newborns. Dr. Fisher developed the Neonatal Perinatal Research Unit with the goal of focusing on research studies that were designed to improve the outcomes of newborns. Since being recruited to Duke in 2006, Dr. Fisher and her team have worked diligently to build a solid team that is devoted to doing research that will directly serve the best interests of babies.
“We have built an incredible infrastructure for doing research which allows us the opportunity to do what we do best – improve outcomes for our babies. The NPRU team is made up of dedicated professionals that make my job enjoyable each and every day!”
Joanne Finkle, RN, JD, is a research program leader in the NPRU at Duke University. Joanne came to Duke in 2011 to assume the role of coordinating all Neonatal Research Network studies. The Neonatal Research Network was initiated by the National Institutes of Health in 1986 and conducts multi-center clinical trials and observational studies in neonatal medicine in order to reduce infant morbidity and mortality and promote healthy outcomes. Duke joined the Network in 2001 and currently has three satellite sites--the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), WakeMed, Raleigh, and East Carolina University-Vidant Health, Greenville. Joanne provides direct oversight, coordination and monthly monitoring of these two satellite sites and manages Duke’s participation in all Network trials. In addition to Network trials, Joanne is actively involved in all NPRU studies, including industry-related, PI initiated or other NIH-funded studies. Joanne has a bachelor’s of science degree from Auburn University, an RN degree from Rush University and a JD from Drake University. Prior to working at Duke, Joanne managed NIH-funded studies in the Department of Pediatrics at UNC-CH.
“I am blessed to work with extraordinary people from three different groups: the Neonatal Research Network- devoted professionals from all over the country committed to improving outcomes for the NICU babies; the NPRU team- tireless advocates for families, NICU staff and excellence in research; and most importantly, the NICU families- exceptional people who generously and selflessly participate in studies to help improve care for future NICU babies.”
Mandy Marion, BS, MT (ASCP), is a senior clinical research coordinator. Mandy received her bachelor of science degree in medical technology and phlebotomy certification from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is board certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. Her experience includes bench level research, clinical laboratory, and industry work in the areas of hematology/coagulation, transfusion medicine and special chemistry. Prior to joining the NPRU in 2012, she worked for Organon Teknika, Cardiovascular Diagnostics, Inc., Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, UNC Hospitals and Baptist Medical Center.
"I enjoy working with an extraordinary group of physicians and researchers, and am grateful for the parents and families who partner with us in working to improve care for these babies."
Caitlin Stone, MA
Caitlin Stone, MA, joined the Neonatal Perinatal Research Unit in June of 2018 as a clinical research coordinator, senior. Caitlin earned her bachelor's of science in psychology from Florida State University in 2014, and later pursued her master’s degree in clinical psychology at Western Carolina University, graduating in 2018. She has over two years’ experience administering psychological assessments, conducting research, and working one-on-one with families. Caitlin has worked with the Department of Children and Families in Florida before relocating to North Carolina to pursue her graduate degree.
“Working with the NPRU and pediatric staff, with such a diversity of thought, professional backgrounds and perspectives, has been a rewarding experience! I feel so honored to know that the work we do can help current and future families, both here and outside of Duke.”
Anne Baez, BS, is a clinical research coordinator who joined the NPRU in March of 2018 as a clinical research specialist. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from East Carolina University in 2013. She joined the NPRU with four years of experience as a surgical ophthalmic assistant from a private medical practice. Beyond her work in the medical field she is also fluent in Spanish and serves as the bi-lingual interpreter for Spanish speaking families!
“My decision to join the NPRU team has greatly broadened both my experience and my passion for research! I am so privileged and honored to be working alongside a team of clever professionals who are nothing short of astonishing. It is humbling to know that the work we do truly makes a positive contribution to the world."
Grace Jefferson, MS, is a clinical research coordinator with the NPRU team, who assists in many different daily activities, from introducing studies and consenting families in the NICU to collecting and processing samples. Grace earned her bachelors of science degree in kinesiology-exercise science from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in exercise physiology from University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Her research experience includes studying the effects of calcitriol on lipid packaging and partitioning in skeletal muscle, as well as working with adult obesity patients through a weekly exercise and vitamin D regimen based study. Her graduate research sparked her interest in the clinical research field, but she enjoys the patient/family interaction and data analysis through each neonatal research study.
“I feel blessed to learn from staff and families that come in and out of our NICU. It is a very rewarding place to collaborate with families and brilliant staff who help us improve healthcare outcomes for the neonatal population. I love being involved with research that can help better a child’s life today and in the future.”
Melissa Babilonia-Rosa, PhD, joined the NPRU team as a clinical research coordinator. Melissa earned her bachelor's of science in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao in 2009 and her doctoral degree in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016. Her research experience includes eight years of bench level research studying protein folding and ion channel movement. Additionally, she has two years of experience with education research developing/validating instructional resources for STEM majors. Beyond her research experience, Melissa is fluent in Spanish and serves as an interpreter for Spanish speaking families. Her biochemistry background, interest in clinical application, and science outreach experiences triggered her interest in the clinical research field.
"Marrying biological research with clinical application has been a long standing interest of mine. Working within the NPRU team I am able to actualize that interest alongside a skilled team of fellow scientists and health professionals.”
Seema Sood, RN, BSN, BS
Seema Sood works both as a clinical nurse II in the Intensive Care Nursery, as well as, in the Neonatal Perinatal Research Unit to help gather and track data. She is primarily responsible for data collection for the Vermont Oxford Network as well as tracking data for several other research studies. She has been with Duke’s ICN since 2007 and working for the NRPU since 2012. She completed a bachelors of science in biology from Case Western Reserve University and afterwards completed an accelerated B.S.N. program at the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a neonatal nurse for the past 17 years and started her nursing career at Georgetown University Medical Center and worked at NICU’s in the DC metro area before moving to NC with her family in 2007.
“I have been a neonatal nurse since graduating nursing school and have truly enjoyed caring for these babies. Working in the unit as a nurse and in research has been an amazing experience here at Duke. It has shown me how everyone comes together to care for the babies and their families to help to advance the outcomes of the NICU population.”
Rick Pittman, BA
Rick Pittman, BA, is the data manager for the Neonatal-Perinatal Research Unit and the Duke University Hospital Intensive Care Nursery. Rick received his bachelor’s degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has 15 years’ experience in data and web technologies. Protecting, managing, and analyzing data for ICN patients and babies enrolled in research studies is his primary focus. He believes the development of reliable data systems is vital to draw accurate conclusions in research studies and clinical outcome studies.
"I'm very fortunate to work with a dedicated team who strives to work for the best interests of babies, families, and research."
Marita Passero, BS
Marita Passero, BS, joined the NPRU in February of 2020 as a clinical research assistant. Marita received her bachelor's degree in biology from High Point University in 2014. Her research experience includes studying the neuroanatomy of extinct species to infer their evolutionary relationships. She has three years of experience in a veterinary clinical setting and also has extensive experience working with patients and handling specimens.
“I am honored to be a part of an astonishing team. It is great to work with bright individuals, and have the opportunity to grow as a young professional. I feel blessed to be a part of the NPRU, where we are working to improve the lives of current and future babies.”
The Future of Clinical Research
The NPRU is committed to preparing future clinical researchers who will be able to successfully continue the mission that we have established. We are dedicated to improving the care that we provide to our babies, and we will continue to explore new therapies and treatment options directed toward better outcomes for our babies. We have had the pleasure of working with some remarkable student researchers, and they help remind us of the possibilities that are attainable through research.
Kim Fisher, PhD, FNP-BC, Director of the NPRU
Meet Our Research Students
“Working as a neonatal nurse in the Duke NPRU was an incredible experience. I was able to work with health care professionals who were dedicated to continuously improving care for the most vulnerable babies. This devoted team inspired me to further my education and patient care efforts. It was great to return and intern with the NPRU as a second year medical student, and I continued to learn so much about how research improves care.”
Lindsay is a student in the Masters of Biomedical Science program at Duke. She received her BS in psychology from Duke University in 2017. The Duke Office of Clinical Research (DOCR) offers a research mentorship elective, where she was paired with Dr. Cotten and the NPRU team! Lindsay spent a semester with the NPRU team to gain experience in the NICU and with various aspects of clinical research. She hopes to further her clinical research interest in medical school.
“The NPRU team has welcomed me and introduced me to the hard work they do for the neonatal babies and their families. Their kindness and passion has launched my desire to continue clinical research in my future path.”