Our Team

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.

 Melissa Babilonia-Rosa, PhD

Melissa Balbionia-Rosa

Melissa Babilonia-Rosa, PhD, is a research program leader and the NPRU team manager. Melissa joined the NPRU as a clinical research coordinator in 2018 and since then, has been involved in all NPRU studies: industry, PI initiated, and Neonatal Research Network (NRN) studies. Beyond her clinical research experience, Melissa is as an authorized interpreter for Spanish speaking families. Melissa earned her bachelor 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 six years of bench level research studying protein folding and two years of post-doctoral experience with education research. 

“The NPRU team has given me the privilege to merge my biochemistry and teaching expertise with clinical research. I work alongside a skilled group of health professionals, the extraordinary NPRU staff, and the parents of our NICU babies who partner with us to improve the care and outcomes of premature and full-term babies.”

 Joanne Propst, RN, JD

Joanne Finkle

Joanne Propst, 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 three 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.”

 Seema Sood, RN, BSN

Seema Sood

Seema Sood, RN, BSN, has worked as a Clinical Nurse II in the Duke ICN since 2007 and she has assisted the NPRU since 2012. She has recently joined the NPRU full time as a Clinical Research Nurse Coordinator. She has a B.S. 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 24, 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

Rick Pittman, BA, is the Data Analyst 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."

Jessica Hamilton, BA

Jessica Hamilton, BA

Jessicka Hamilton, BA, joined the NPRU team as a clinical research coordinator in 2022. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Elon University in Psychology with a concentration in Neuroscience. Jessicka has been providing quality patient care at Duke University since 2016.

Mark Twain says that if you find a job you enjoy doing, you will never have to work a day in your life. I get to work alongside such intelligent individuals who truly are making a difference in the lives of NICU babies. But, the true heroes are the families themselves who choose to allow their baby to participate in studies that improve care for future NICU babies. I treasure those family interactions the most.”

Michelle Sunico, BS

Michelle Sunico

Michelle Sunico, BS, (Clinical Research Coordinator) joined the NPRU team in November 2022 as a clinical research specialist. With a Bachelor of Science in Medical Physiology from King's College London, UK, her journey into research was sparked by her curiosity about the human body and its intricate mechanisms. Her research dissertation focused on the role and effect of the ryanodine receptor 1 mutation in pulmonary smooth muscle. Prior to working at Duke University, she acquired valuable experience in orthopedic surgery as a Medical Telescribe and Ambassador at University of California, San Francisco. Additionally, she volunteered in ancillary patient support within the post-anesthesia care unit at East Carolina University (Vidant) Health in Greenville, NC. With a heart full of curiosity and a mind open to new possibilities, she looks forward to making meaningful contributions to NPRU's mission of enhancing outcomes for infants and families.

"I am thrilled to join NPRU in improving outcomes for both current and future infants. Collaborating with skilled professionals provides an invaluable opportunity for personal and professional growth, and I am honored to be part of such a dedicated team." 

Kelsey Lewis, BS

Kelsey Lewis

Kelsey Lewis, BS is from Durham, North Carolina. She earned her B.S. in Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Her research experience includes clinical research through the Duke STAR program, the Duke Malaria Collaboratory, and the CDC Public Health Entomology For All (PHEFA) program in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition, she has worked on various basic science research projects as an undergraduate student at NCCU. Outside of her research experience, she has worked directly with patients in the prehospital setting to provide emergency medical care as an EMT. 

“I am thrilled to join a team of like-minded and motivated professionals seeking to impact and improve the lives of infants. I’m excited to join the NPRU team to help achieve this goal.” 

What the NPRU Means to Me

Kim Fisher

"When Duke recruited me in 2006, I could not have imagined the possibilities that were opening up in front of me. I entered into a division that was not only supportive of research but was driven by research. Led, at the time by Drs. Ron Goldberg, David Tanaka and Mike Cotten, these prestigious leaders saw the importance and value in allowing the evidence to drive their clinical practice. This safety net allowed me the opportunity to develop and grow the Neonatal Perinatal Research Unit. Over the past 19 years I have had the honor of working with some of the most incredible colleagues, including my amazing staff. I have witnessed the impact that research has on the outcomes for our babies and I am forever grateful to have been given this opportunity."

- Kimberley Fisher, PhD, FNP-BC, Founder and Former Director of the NPRU