Dr. Sandra “Sunny” Juul recently became the new Division Chief of Neonatology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, taking the helm from Dr. Christine Gleason, who stepped down to pursue other professional goals. Below, Juul talks about her vision for her own research and for the Division of Neonatology at Seattle Children’s.
Neonatology is a relatively new field of medical practice, having come into its own in the 1960s. At that time, survival for extremely premature babies and many of those with congenital disorders was low. Through experience and research, infants who were previously destined to die now survive, yet their outcomes are frequently burdened by significant neurodevelopmental challenges.
As a neonatologist, I am honored to participate in the care of precious, fragile individuals ranging from extremely preterm infants to term neonates with complex medical or surgical problems. These small patients and their families humble me with their endurance in the face of great adversity.
I believe that our current mandate as neonatologists is to ensure that survivors of these previously fatal conditions can lead fully functional lives without impairment. In order to accomplish these audacious goals, we have committed, as a division, to improve neonatal outcomes by providing outstanding evidence-based neonatal clinical care, moving our field forward by conducting research, and by educating the next generation of neonatal caregivers.
My own research is in the area of neonatal neuroprotection: how to optimize neurodevelopment, protect the newborn brain from injury and repair the injured brain. Almost 20 years ago I became fascinated with erythropoietin (Epo) as a potential neuroprotective agent. I have studied this hormone in many biological systems, from cell culture to small and large animal models, culminating finally in clinical trials. We are now leading a national multicenter clinical trial of preterm Epo neuroprotection (PENUT trial) to test whether Epo will improve the long-term neurodevelopmental outcome of extremely premature infants. Other areas of research focus in our division include ethics of newborn care, global maternal and newborn health, and education through simulation.
Clinically, our Division of Neonatology is the sole academic neonatology presence in the Pacific Northwest region. I am looking forward to leading our Division as we move forward with our plans to expand the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Seattle Children’s, adding a much needed step-down unit, and a collaborative, expanded neurodevelopmental follow-up program for our high risk neonates. This will allow us, in collaboration with our subspecialty colleagues, to provide high quality comprehensive care from the time of prenatal diagnosis, through their hospitalization, to childhood follow-up. We have an amazing faculty and staff in our Division who work together to support these three missions. I am truly honored to be their leader.
After completing her medical degree, residency, fellowship and two years as an acting Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Juul left Seattle in 1991 for the University of Chicago where she began a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology. She then joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1993, where her Ph.D. work was completed. In 2000, Dr. Juul was successfully recruited back to Seattle. She has been an outstanding clinician and educator, and has developed an internationally recognized NIH-funded research program devoted to improving neonatal neurodevelopmental outcomes.