Department of Ob/Gyn – A national leader in women’s health
UT Southwestern’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has been both a pioneer and a leader in women’s health care. From caring for young women during adolescence, to guiding women through pregnancy, to managing life after menopause, the mission has remained unchanged since the Department’s founding in 1943.
The Department, which offers excellence in comprehensive care, education, and basic and clinical scientific research related to women’s health, is comprised of dedicated Ob/Gyn physicians, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, gynecologic oncologists, urogynecologists, specialists in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and basic scientists specializing in reproductive biology.
Consistently ranked among the nation’s top Ob/Gyn programs by U.S. News & World Report, the Department operates the largest obstetrics and gynecology training program in the nation, with 80 residency and 16 fellowship positions available. In addition, faculty members in the Department are authors of three major Ob/Gyn textbooks – Williams Obstetrics, Williams Gynecology, and Essential Reproductive Medicine.
Ob/Gyn faculty provide comprehensive care in dual arenas – at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, where the Department has a rapidly expanding general Ob/Gyn and referral practice, and at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where UT Southwestern physicians supervise the care of thousands of women and oversee more than 10,000 births annually. In addition, UT Southwestern Ob/Gyn physicians provide care at specialty clinics in Las Colinas, Irving, and the Park Cities, making excellent care even more accessible.
“I have been honored to lead our Department for more than 11 years,” said Dr. Steven Bloom, Professor and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Daily, our talented faculty strive to deliver outstanding patient care, teach the next generation of physicians and scientists, and advance knowledge in women’s health through basic and clinical research.”
The Department maintains a robust research program, participating in several National Institutes of Health (NIH) multicenter network grants, along with a multimillion-dollar NIH program project grant that has been funded since 1974. In one NIH project, UT Southwestern researchers are leading a national study to test whether maternal supplementation with thyroid hormones can improve pregnancy outcomes in women with subclinical hypothyroidism.
The Department’s Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences focuses on basic science research under the leadership of Dr. W. Lee Kraus, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pharmacology. The Green Center’s mission is to promote and support cutting-edge, integrative, and collaborative basic research in female reproductive biology, with a focus on signaling, gene regulation, and genome function. Of the dozens of important research themes taking place in the Center, one area of particular importance is preterm birth.
Each year, about one in every nine infants in the United States is born preterm (before 37 weeks), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Premature birth can cause brain hemorrhage and respiratory distress for babies, as well as long-term conditions such as cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, and impaired vision. UT Southwestern researchers in the Green Center aim to discover the biologic mechanisms that lead to preterm birth in order to develop better therapies to prevent this serious pregnancy complication.
Recent contributions include the research of Dr. Mala Mahendroo, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, whose findings have helped determine why some women experience unexpected preterm labor and birth. Her study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, identified hyaluronan as a critical substance made by the body that protects against premature births caused by infection. This is the first time scientists have been able to detail the specific role that hyaluronan plays in the reproductive tract.
Hyaluronan is a natural substance found in many of the body’s tissues, and is both a lubricant and a beneficial component of eyes, joints, and skin. It has long been thought to play an essential role in increasing the cervix’s flexibility during the birth process. However, the study showed that it is not essential for increased cervical pliability during late pregnancy. Instead, the substance plays an important barrier role in epithelial cells of the lower reproductive tract and in so doing protects against infection-related preterm birth.
“We found that hyaluronan is required to allow the epithelial lining of the reproductive tract to serve as the first line of defense against bacterial infections,” said Dr. Mahendroo. “Because of this action, it offers cervical protection against the bacterial infections that cause 25 to 40 percent of preterm births in women.”
Related work by Dr. Carole Mendelson, Professor of Biochemistry and Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Director of the North Texas March of Dimes Birth Defects Center, revealed a possible target for preventing premature birth. Alongside her team of researchers, Dr. Mendelson has identified two proteins in a fetus’s lungs responsible for initiating the labor process. Previous studies have suggested that signals from the fetus initiate the birth process, but the precise molecular mechanisms that lead to labor remained unclear.
“Our study provides compelling evidence that the fetus regulates the timing of its birth, and that this control occurs after these two gene regulatory proteins – SRC-1 and SRC-2 – increase the production of surfactant components, surfactant protein A and platelet activating factor by the fetal lungs, which act as signals for labor,” said Dr. Mendelson. “By understanding the factors and pathways that initiate normal-term labor at 40 weeks, we can gain more insight into how to prevent preterm labor.”
Should UT Southwestern’s tiniest patients need special care, Clements University Hospital includes a Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit, a designation that indicates the capability to provide for infants in need of intensive and specialized care. This unit is the clinical home of the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, led by Dr. Rashmin Savani, Professor of Pediatrics, who also directs and cares for infants in neonatal intensive care units at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, Parkland Memorial Hospital, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Together, this multidisciplinary team of experts is ensuring that UT Southwestern provides North Texas women, and their babies, exemplary care through all stages of life.
Dr. Bloom holds the Jack A. Pritchard, M.D. Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. Kraus holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Reproductive Biology Sciences.
Dr. Savani holds The William Buchanan Chair in Pediatrics.