Carmel Valley doctor leads Sharp research team on neonatal therapies

Through groundbreaking research, the Neonatal Research Institute at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns is increasing the odds of survival for premature and sick newborns.

Research director Anup Katheria has been at the helm of the Neonatal Research Institute since it was established two years ago. Leading a multidisciplinary team, the Carmel Valley resident is behind the institute’s clinical trials of new medicines and therapies that have the potential to provide long-term benefits for babies at risk for brain, heart and lung complications.

“I want us to be the leader in where therapies for babies are being developed,” said Katheria, director of the Neonatal Research Institute.

The institute’s research has helped Sharp Mary Birch Hospital become the first hospital in the U.S. to offer revolutionary newborn resuscitation technology, such as the specialized “LifeStart” resuscitation beds.

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the hospital purchased the beds last year, allowing newborns to stay with their mothers so the babies can receive immediate resuscitation without being separated from the umbilical cord.

Using the beds, researchers have studied whether delayed cord clamping by about 45 seconds can improve long-term brain function for babies needing resuscitation at birth. Current practice in the United States is to cut the umbilical cord immediately in these cases so the baby can be taken to a designated treatment area.

This is the type of work that brought Katheria to Sharp Mary Birch Hospital two years ago.

Originally from Chicago, Katheria earned his bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and his medical degree at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. He completed his pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Orange County and his perinatal-neonatal fellowship at UC San Diego.

Katheria worked as an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego until he joined Sharp to launch the Neonatal Research Institute in 2013.

“The whole purpose of me coming to this hospital was to head up a research program,” he explained. “It was a first for Sharp to have a physician that didn’t just do clinical care.”

Offering a full range of maternity and women’s surgical services, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital has nine operating rooms and 206 beds, including the region’s largest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with 84 beds. The hospital delivers more than 9,000 babies each year, which is more than any other hospital in California.

With more babies born at Sharp Mary Birch than at any other hospital in the state, Katheria said the Neonatal Research Institute has an opportunity to create a strong research institution that will lead to meaningful breakthroughs.

“I really think, with the amount of deliveries we have and with the hospital being so supportive, we can design the next therapy to help lots of babies,” Katheria said. “And these therapies are not just a U.S. intervention, these are a global intervention.”

Other current research at the Neonatal Research Institute includes a study to see whether caffeine given to preterm infants improves heart function and reduces the need for a breathing tube, as well as a study to explore whether a new aerosolized surfactant could prevent premature babies from needing a medicine normally given through a breathing tube.

The Neonatal Research Institute’s first study will be published this summer. Shortly after the institute launched, Katheria and his team began exploring whether additional umbilical cord blood improves long-term brain function in babies requiring resuscitation at birth. Through the study, babies were given extra cord blood by either squeezing the cord or waiting to cut it.

A two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health required the institute to enroll 80 babies over two years, but Katheria and his team looked at 200 babies in just one year.

“We did it in half the time with twice as many babies with the same amount of funding,” he said. “I’m proud that we not only met expectations from a funding standpoint, we doubled it.”

Katheria said he wants the Neonatal Research Institute to be known for its important research, but also for conducting research quickly and efficiently.

“We want people to know that if we can get funding for certain studies, we will get it done, and we will get it done fast and efficiently,” Katheria said. “We want to get this information out faster so we can change care faster.”

For information about the Neonatal Research Institute or to donate, visit