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Harbor-UCLA Pediatrics "Faculty Spotlight" on Dr. Lynne Smith

By Romel Edmond - Posted on 18 March 2015

Among her duties as Director of Level II Nursery, Perinatal Clinical Research Center and Co-Director of the Medical Student Education here at Harbor Pediatrics, Dr. Lynne Smith studies the effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure. We caught up with Dr. Smith to discuss her findings and more.

The primary focus of Dr. Lynne Smith’s research efforts is to determine the effects of prenatal drug exposure on the developing brain. In collaboration with colleagues, she has utilized non-invasive brain imaging techniques in children exposed to drugs in utero. Collectively, these efforts are intended to develop appropriate interventions for exposed children and their families.

Can you tell me about the published paper, Effects of Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure on Behavioral and Cognitive Findings at 7.5 Years of Age

We found children exposed to methamphetamines during pregnancy demonstrated subtle adverse effects in the domains of attention and cognition relative to unexposed children. Overall, though the exposed children performed fairly well. Factors that contribute to improved outcome in exposed children include an enriching home environment.

I am passionate about this work because the public often hold negative views of drug exposed children. These concerns cause many prospective parents to eliminate the option of adopting exposed children. The findings from our investigation are thus far reassuring, suggesting a more hopeful outlook for these many of these children than previously thought.

How did you get involved in this area of research?

During my fellowship, I became interested in the effects of prenatal exposures, whether they be from medicines or drugs of abuse. Initially I studied cocaine exposed children, but when methamphetamines emerged in the mid-1990s in near epidemic proportions, my interests shifted. The initial reports from the medical community suggested these children were significantly impaired—however, proper unexposed control subjects were not selected in earlier reports. The IDEAL study was funded in part to address these limitations

What makes you so passionate about your work?

In many areas of the country, pregnant and parenting women addicted to drugs are dealt with in a punitive manner instead of attempting a supportive treatment approach. Many of these women have numerous struggles from childhood that have not been adequately addressed.

We are fortunate at Harbor-UCLA to have a comprehensive approach to drug treatment with our Obstetrics for Substance Abusing Mothers (OSAM) and Infants of Substance Abusing Mothers (ISAM) clinics as well as the Options for Recovery program for pregnant and parenting women.

What importance do interns have in the hospital and what advice would you give to them?

I love working with interns. They have worked so hard to secure a residency position, allowing them to be one step closer to their dream of becoming a pediatrician. Being a part of their journey as they move toward residency graduation is an incredible honor and very energizing for me.
To thrive as a resident it is helpful to maintain a great attitude, work hard and ask for help when needed.

What made you want to be a pediatrician?

I really like who I am when I am caring for children and their families. I also remember how much I respected and loved my pediatrician and wanted to be able to impact others in the same manner.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the practice of pediatrics since you’ve began?

The biggest change I’ve seen is the improvement in HIV care. When I first started as a medical student, there were no effective therapies for decreasing the transmission of HIV from the mother to the fetus. Caring for these children was heartbreaking. With the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy and insights learned regarding optimal peripartum management, Pediatric AIDS has decreased dramatically.

What is the Children’s Health Research Program, which you’ve co-founded?

The Children’s Health Research Program was founded to enhance collaborative, multidisciplinary research within pediatrics and to develop a strong relationship with our community. The program is divided into two separate networks, the Health Studies Network and the Therapeutic Development Network lead by Dr. Patti Dickson.
The Health Studies Network, which I lead, is dedicated to promoting and improving the health and well-being of children and their families. In partnership with the community, our network of investigators and community members conduct innovative health outcomes research and provides educational outreach programs to not only the population we serve but beyond. Our network utilizes education, research and advocacy to implement novel strategies to reduce barriers to a healthy lifestyle.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the practice of pediatrics since you’ve began?

The biggest change I’ve seen is the improvement in HIV care. When I first started as a medical student, there were no effective therapies for decreasing the transmission of HIV from the mother to the fetus. Caring for these children was heartbreaking. With the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy and insights learned regarding optimal peripartum management, Pediatric AIDS has decreased dramatically.

What importance do interns have in the hospital and what advice would you give to them?

I love working with interns. They have worked so hard to secure a residency position, allowing them to be one step closer to their dream of becoming a pediatrician. Being a part of their journey as they move toward residency graduation is an incredible honor and very energizing for me.
To thrive as a resident it is helpful to maintain a great attitude, work hard and ask for help when needed.

What made you want to be a pediatrician?

I really like who I am when I am caring for children and their families. I also remember how much I respected and loved my pediatrician and wanted to be able to impact others in the same manner.

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