Michelle Baack, MD, Lab

Baack Lab

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Dr. Baack Bio

  • Michelle BaackAssociate Professor of Pediatrics - Division of Neonatology, Sanford School of Medicine - University of South Dakota
  • Physician Scientist, Children’s Health Research Center, Sanford Research
  • Neonatologist, Sanford Children’s Specialty Clinic

Primary Research Focus

Michelle Baack’s research is focused on establishing the underrecognized role of lipid disturbances in the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). Disease starts long before any symptoms ever develop and is often triggered by genetic and environmental influences. Although genes are encoded at conception, the environment can alter how genes are expressed (turned off or on). When an environmental stimulus occurs during a critical window of early development to cause life-long changes in the structure and function of the body, this is called developmental programming. To help improve the long term outcomes of high-risk babies, our lab studies how maternal and neonatal nutrition, specifically various types of fats, can increase or decrease the risk of disease … obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, cardiovascular and neurologic consequences.

  • Understanding the Role of Fatty Acids in the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
  • The Role of Cardiac Bioenergetics and Mitochondrial Function in Heart Health and Disease
  • The Role of Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Health of Premature Infants 

Behind the research

To meet this objective, Dr. Baack uses both basic science and clinical research strategies. The Baack Lab at Sanford Research works to identify the molecular mechanisms of developmentally programmed disease. Using a rat model they discovered that a maternal high-fat diet, especially alongside late gestation diabetes, increases the risk of heart disease in the developing offspring through alterations in cardiac fuel utilization, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. Findings serve as a critical step towards understanding the role of cellular bioenergetics in developmentally programmed heart disease. On-going work is focusing on sex-specific differences and translating findings to human models using cardiac progenitors from human umbilical mesenchymal stem cells. The Baack lab also uses this same rat model in collaboration with other labs to understand how maternal diabetes and dyslipidemia increases the risk of stillbirths, abnormal brain, kidney, pancreas, liver and lung development.

Dr. Baack’s clinical research focuses on protecting babies who are born too early. The premature infant is born deficient in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for normal health, brain and retinal development. She led a clinical trial in the Boekelheide NICU which developed a new way to overcome this deficiency with the goal to prevent significant complications of prematurity. Also, the Mother’s Milk DHA study helps moms assure the breast milk they give their baby is a good source of essential fats.

Overall, the Baack Lab hopes to raise awareness about the importance of balancing the intake of both “good” and “bad” fats during high-risk pregnancy and early infant development. 


Access Dr. Baack's publications here.  
Meet members of the Baack lab here.  
Contact Us News
Phone: (605) 312-6420  View news about Baack lab here.
Fax: (605) 312-6071  
Email: michelle.baack@sanfordhealth.org


Lab News

May 2017 Dr. Michelle Baack participated in the Eunice Kennedy Schriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) - Neonatal Research Network (NRN) Steering Committee meeting at the NIH in Bethesda, MD. The Steering Committee guides neonatal research and clinical trials at fifteen NIH-approved, tertiary care NICUs across the nation.

May 2017 Dr. Michelle Baack, published a research article in Nutrients discovering that a maternal high-fat diet during pregnancy causes epigenetic reprogramming of cardiac metabolism and heart disease in offspring of diabetic and obese mothers. "Fat diet affects histone modification of cardiometabolic genes in newborn rats". 

March 2017 Michelle Baack, MD, served as a content expert for an episode of "On Call with the Prairie Doc", a public television series that provides important health care information to South Dakotans.

February 2017 Michelle Baack, MD received a research grant from the Cooperative Neonatal Research Network (NRN).

January 2017 Dr. Michelle Baack published a paper titled "Breast milk DHA levels may increase after informing women: a community-based cohort study from South Dakota USA" in the International Breasefeeding Journal.  Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels in breast milk were measured to determine if infants get an appropriate amount of DHA to support proper development.  Breastfeeding mothers at Sanford received testing and education on the importance of DNA and subsequently increased their DHA intake to retain recommended values in breast milk. 

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