Baack Lab

 Baack Lab

Primary Focus

Michelle Baack

Michelle Baack’s research is focused on establishing the under-recognized role of lipid disturbances in the developmental programming of disease. 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, Dr. Baack’s lab studies how maternal and neonatal nutrition, specifically various types of fats, can increase or decrease the risk of disease, such as obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, cardiovascular and neurologic consequences.


  • Michelle BaackAssociate scientist in developmental biology
  • Assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics, Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota
  • Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD
  • Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Dakota-School of Medicine, Sioux Falls, SD
  • Pediatric residency training from the University of Nebraska Medical Center-Creighton Joint Pediatric Residency Program, Omaha, NE
  • Fellowship in neonatal and perinatal medicine at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Baack Lab Baack Lab

Behind the research

To meet this objective, the Baack lab research has both a clinical and basic science platforms. Our clinical trials have focused 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. A clinical trial in the Boekelheide NICU focuses on developing new ways to overcome this deficiency with the goal to prevent significant complications of prematurity.

Additionally, Dr. Baack and the research team are working to educate mothers about the importance of a normal intake of omega-3 fats like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during breastfeeding. Through the Mother’s Milk DHA study, moms can learn how to assure the breast milk they give their baby is a good source of DHA.

In contrast, Dr. Baack’s basic science research focuses on decreasing fetal exposure to excess “bad” fats (saturated and mono-unsaturated fats) in order to prevent cardiovascular disease even before it begins. Infants born to mothers with diabetes or obesity during the pregnancy are at higher risk of cardiac disease later in life.

Dr. Baack’s lab created a rat model to study how this occurs. We discovered that a diet high in saturated fat, especially alongside diabetic pregnancy, causes excess fat deposition in the developing heart. Moreover, lipid deposition during early development is associated with enlargement of the cardiomyocytes, poor heart function and developmental programming of fuel metabolism, which may increase the risk of heart disease throughout a lifetime.

Dr. Baack and the team are also using this same rat model in collaboration with other labs to understand how maternal diabetes or dyslipidemia may cause abnormal brain, kidney, pancreas and lung vessel development. They hope to raise awareness about the importance of good nutrition and how to balance 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.  
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Phone: (605) 312-6420  View news about Baack lab here.
Fax: (605) 312-6071  


Lab News

March 2016, Dr. Michelle Baack’s recent publication entitled “Maternal high-fat diet impairs cardiac function in offspring of diabetic pregnancy through metabolic stress and mitochondrial dysfunction” in the journal American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology has been nominated for distinction in scholarship for APS select  This is a collection of articles from the APS journals that showcases some of the best recently published articles in physiological research.

February 2016, Dr. Michelle Baack and her team have recently published a study entitled “Daily Enteral DHA Supplementation Alleviates Deficiency in Premature Infants” in the journal Lipids. This randomized, clinical trial demonstrates that premature infants receiving standard neonatal nutrition remained deficient in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) throughout their hospitalization, but supplementation with 50mg/d of enteral DHA was well tolerated and alleviated deficiency. Coauthors on this publication included Michelle L Baack, Susan E Puumala, Stephen E Messier, Deborah K Pritchett, and William S Harris.

January 2016, Dr. Michelle Baack’s team recently had a publication in the American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology entitled “Maternal high-fat diet impairs cardiac function in offspring of diabetic pregnancy through metabolic stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.” Sanford co-authors on the publication include Dr. Kenney Mdaki, Tricia Larsen, Dr. Michelle Schimelpfenig, Angela Wachel and Sam Dooyema as well as USD medical student Lucinda J Weaver and Augustana undergraduate Eli J Louwagie. This study is the first to demonstrate that a maternal high-fat diet further impairs cardiac function in offspring of diabetic pregnancy through metabolic abnormalities, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. Findings serve as a critical step in understanding the role of cellular bioenergetics in developmentally programmed cardiac disease.

January 2016, Dr. Michelle Baack will be an invited presenter at Perinatal Grand Rounds at the University of Alabama on January 20th. The title of her talk will be “Fats and the fetus: You are what your mother eats.”

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