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DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke Children's Hospital and Health Center has received its second-largest gift ever -- $5 million from the Atlanta-based Zeist Foundation to benefit the Neonatal-Perinatal Research Institute (NPRI).

Duke University Medical Center is committed to excellence in neonatology, and is part of the National Institutes of Health-supported Neonatal Research Network, a partnership of 16 academic medical centers all dedicated to improving the care of premature babies and furthering research in the area. Infants are considered premature if they are born before 37 weeks gestation.

"We are very grateful to the Zeist Foundation for this important gift," said Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead. "Premature birth is a significant problem in our state and the nation, and this gift will contribute to the future health of many children."

Premature births are on the rise nationally and in North Carolina, where 13.5 percent of all live births were premature in 2004, according to the March of Dimes. Prematurity is the leading cause of death for infants in the United States and is a major cause of illness and disability, including developmental delays, chronic respiratory problems, and vision and hearing impairment.

Two million dollars of the gift will support research at the NPRI; $1.5 million will endow The Jean and George W. Brumley Jr., M.D. Professorship in Neurodevelopmental Biology. The NPRI also will be renamed the Jean and George W. Brumley Jr. Neonatal-Perinatal Research Institute.

The Zeist Foundation was created and is operated by the family of George W. Brumley Jr., the first director of neonatology at Duke University Medical Center. After 19 years on the Duke faculty, Brumley left in 1981 to chair the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. Brumley; his wife, Jean Stanback Brumley; and 10 other family members representing three generations were killed in a July 2003 plane crash near Nairobi, Kenya.

"George was an incredible individual and mentor," said Ronald N. Goldberg, M.D., the Shad-McBryde professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Duke, who with Brumley co-founded the NPRI and now serves as its director. "He was a man of honor, and I can think of no better way to honor him than by continuing to advance the understanding and treatment of birth injury and defects through both basic and translational clinical research. He had a genuine love and enthusiasm for caring for babies."

Victor J. Dzau, M.D., Duke University chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of the Duke University Health System, said the gift will "advance Duke's ability to conduct cutting-edge neonatal-perinatal research and train the next generation of experts. It will help us to work toward understanding the genetic and cellular causes of major birth defects, which are by far the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States."

Neonatal researchers at Duke and the NPRI have played major roles in the key advancements in neonatal medicine over the past 25 years. Their contributions have included developing and establishing safety protocols for high-frequency ventilation (HFV) to treat respiratory failure in premature babies and leading a national study that prompted the Food and Drug Administration to approve inhaled nitric oxide therapy for full-term infants with respiratory failure.

For more information on the George and Jean Brumley Neonatal-Perinatal Research Institute, visit http://pediatrics.duke.edu.