Catherine Hunter, MD
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
Vice Chief, Division of Pediatric Surgery and Program Director
What is your lab’s long-term/big-picture research goal?
Our lab studies a terrible disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). It occurs in about 5% of all babies in the intensive care unit and typically affects those who were born prematurely. Our goals are to understand why some infants get NEC and to develop strategies to prevent and cure NEC when it does occur.
What is your training/scientific background?
I was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. I went to medical school at Cornell University in New York, and completed a general surgery residency and pediatric surgery fellowship in Los Angeles. During my time in Los Angeles I worked at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles studying NEC, where I also took care of my first patient with NEC. As a new attending, I started my own research laboratory at Northwestern University in Chicago. I am dedicated to studying and developing strategies to eradicate NEC.
What is the goal of your OCASCR project?
In this project we will be developing mini-intestinal units grown from the stem cells of our patients. We will test them to find out how they respond to factors that are associated with the development of NEC. Insights from this work will allow us to understand why patients get NEC and develop targets for therapies.
How might your research impact diseases related to obesity or smoking?
Both smoking and obesity are associated with an increased chance of premature delivery. This leads to an increased number of “at risk” infants.
What’s your most critical piece of research equipment in your lab?
We have a -80 degree (super cold) freezer in our lab. This lets us store precious samples of intestine provided by patients. We study these samples to determine the causes of NEC.
What’s your favorite scientific meeting to attend?
My favorite scientific meeting to attend is the American Pediatric Surgical Association. It is a wonderful mix of clinically relevant topics and excellent science from around the nation and world.
What is special about your work?
I love being a pediatric surgeon because I have the opportunity to help babies and children. Research gives me the chance to help an entire population of kids in a way that complements my clinical service.